Illinois lawmakers consider measures aimed at making mental health care more accessible

Illinois lawmakers consider measures aimed at making mental health care more accessible

Illinois legislators have advanced two measures pushed by proponents of reform in the state’s behavioral health system that are intended to expand the insurance coverage available for those seeking care.

The bills, both of which were passed by the House on  April 19 and are now before the Senate, aim to combat what supporters say are inequities in access to support systems for people suffering mental health and substance abuse issues, which have remained at stubbornly high rates following the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, a former social worker who represents a chunk of Chicago’s Northwest Side and chairs the House’s Mental Health and Addiction Committee, is designed to encourage more behavioral health providers to enroll in commercial insurance networks and, in turn, reduce costs for some seeking their services.

The bill’s language was crafted with help from Illinois-based mental health organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Chicago chapter and the nonprofit social service agency Thresholds, which treats severe mental health and substance use disorders.

While the majority of Thresholds clients do not use the types of insurance this bill would regulate, Heather O’Donnell, the agency’s senior vice president of public policy and advocacy, said that the work still matters, as it can prevent people from reaching a point of crisis.

“It takes somebody with a serious mental illness about 10 years, 10 solid years, before they’re able to find the right kind of treatment and support to stabilize their condition,” O’Donnell said in an interview. “Imagine a day when it doesn’t take 10 years, it takes a month or two. That’s what we should be focused on. And people who are able to access a provider that can help them see the signs of serious mental illness, that’s what we are striving for.”