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Pritzker signs bill to heal real health care problems facing Black and Brown residents — but GOP says it’s based on ‘fantasy money’

The bill is the health care pillar of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda.  Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said the legislation will “give our babies and children a fighting chance from Day One to have healthier outcomes than those who came before them.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the health care reform bill into law Tuesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the health care reform bill into law Tuesday.
Andrew Sullender/Chicago Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping health care reform bill that he and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus hope will remove the “inequities and obstacles” that often keep Black and Brown communities from receiving the medical care to which they are entitled.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege, but for too long, too many Illinoisans have been denied that right, whether through health care deserts, inexcusable delays in Medicaid applications, through lack of access through high premiums, through doctors untrained to recognize symptoms on black skin,” Pritzker said before signing the bill.

“The Illinois Health Care and Health Services Reform Act takes sweeping action to address those inequities and obstacles.”

But a spokeswoman for House Republicans said the new law will cost the state “billions of dollars of fantasy money” Illinois just doesn’t have.

Pritzker signed the bill at Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation in Springfield. He was joined by bill sponsors state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, as well as Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, state Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who said the bill will “chart the path forward for a more equitable health system for Illinois residents.”

Stratton said the legislation will “give our babies and children a fighting chance from Day One to have healthier outcomes than those who came before them.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at Tuesday’s bill-signing ceremony in Springfield.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks at Tuesday’s bill-signing ceremony in Springfield.
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The bill, which passed the House and Senate in March, is the health care pillar of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda.

It establishes new requirements for implicit medical bias training for all licensed medical professionals, caps costs for blood sugar testing equipment and creates training programs for community health worker certification and dementia.

The new law also addresses oversight and transparency around the Medicaid managed care system, hospital closures and legal aid for those seeking help for an opioid overdose. And it establishes an anti-racism commission focused on rooting out systemic racism in the state’s health care system.

Hunter said the caucus worked on the legislation for about a year after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking “a reaction against racism that we have never, never seen before.”

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, speaks at Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation in Springfield on Tuesday.
State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, speaks at Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation in Springfield on Tuesday.
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“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on every race, in every region of the planet. While it has wreaked havoc on every demographic, people of color have been more susceptible to be infected with COVID-19,” Hunter said.

“Numerous studies have shown racism is the root of various health inequities experienced by African Americans. … It is our responsibility as elected officials to create laws that create an enriched, lasting impact on the communities we represent. This legislation does just that, and there is no better time to enact it.”

The legislation was the result of hours of hearings in which Illinois residents told legislators what they needed from the health care system, Lilly said. In the West Side Democrat’s opinion, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much else.”

She called the new law “a significant first step towards improving the quality of life for millions of Illinoisans, not just one group.”

State Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, speaks at Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation in Springfield on Tuesday.
State Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, speaks in Springfield on Tuesday.
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Many of the issues contained in the bill are subject to state appropriation, meaning future General Assemblies will have to handle allocating funds to support them.

When the bill passed last month, Capitol News Illinois reported that House and Senate Republicans voiced concerns about the cost of implementing the legislation, which state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, said would be around $12 billion, a price tag he said the state can’t afford.

“The fiscal impact of $12 billion would represent almost 30% of the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2022 general funds budget, which is $41.6 billion,” McClure said at the time. “We just can’t afford it, and that’s really what it comes down to.”

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said the cost of implementing the bill will be around $51.7 million, arguing the larger estimate comes from the original draft of the bill.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday.
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Asked about the funding after signing the bill, Pritzker said previous price tags floated by Republicans were “inaccurate and, of course, they’re exaggerating as they always do about this.”

“We’re going to work very hard to try to implement the provisions of this law,” Pritzker said. “It will take us some time and effort. I’ll be working together with the legislators to make sure that that happens.”

Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for House Republicans, said Pritzker’s decision to sign the legislation “will cost billions of dollars of fantasy money we just don’t have.”

“Anyone who believes his inaccurate rhetoric on costs of this bill should refer to his false statements on independent redistricting,” she said.