With his signature Wednesday on a bill sponsored by two suburban lawmakers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker placed Illinois among just three states that require insurance companies to cover mental health disorders.
The legislation makes a bold and timely statement on our state’s attitude toward mental health that can have ramifications on situations as personal as an isolated struggle with depression or as public as a mass shooting.
“Mental health care,” as Pritzker said in a statement following the bill signing, “is health care,” and unfortunately, our medical infrastructure has not always recognized that precept. In Illinois, like California and Oregon before us with similar requirements, it does now.
Illinois’ legislation — sponsored by Deb Conroy of Villa Park in the House and Laura Fine of Glenview in the Senate — requires insurers to cover medically necessary mental health and substance abuse disorders and forbids them from placing limits on treatment of chronic conditions. Importantly, it also removes the authority for defining “medically necessary” from insurance companies and places it with mental health experts and unaffiliated nonprofit clinical societies.
“Insurance companies’ definitions of medical necessity are often opaque, arbitrary and determined more by company accountants than by mental health professionals,” says the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Medical Illness at its website. “This bill (requires) insurance carriers to base their medical necessity rules on accepted practices as determined by professionally recognized mental health standards boards.”
These changes in how our institutions handle mental health and substance abuse issues are important from a structural point of view, but just as important, they also foster awareness of mental health ailments not as simple human weaknesses but as complex medical conditions.
It also bears noting that at the same time he signed this bill, Pritzker also signed legislation to create a first-responder system to coordinate responses to 911 calls with a national 988 mental health crisis line due to come on line next summer. The system aims to help authorities detect and distinguish individuals who have mental illness when responding to emergency complaints, possibly heading off violent confrontations and ensuring that individuals needing medical treatment are not handled as criminals.
That bill, supporters say, represents the first such approach to managing potentially violent mental-health episodes.
It is not often that Illinois finds itself at the forefront of the nation on managing public policies. These two bills make strong statutory and philosophical statements on an issue with implications not just for individuals but for society as a whole. They deserve recognition and celebration.
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August 27, 2021 at 01:21AM