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Black Legislative Caucus Health Care Bill Heads To Illinois Senate

State Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Oak Park, asks House colleagues to support the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus's healthcare bill. Lilly is the primary sponsor of the bill.

A health care bill spearheaded by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus has passed out of the State House on a party line vote.

Sponsors say the bill is meant to reckon with racial inequities in health care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A previous attempt to pass a similar bill died at the end of the last General Assembly session in January.

"Inequity must be addressed, because if it's not, your life expectancy will be depending on your ZIP code," said state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Oak Park. "We must look at the equities and the inequities as the priority when we look at our budget to make sure that we are looking at all people."

Lilly said the bill makes better health care outcomes and human life a priority.

"Access to health care has to be looked through through an equity lens," said Lilly. "We must invest in our communities and in our infrastructures in our communities that gives individuals, our citizens, a chance to live."

Among other changes, the bill would establish a commission to evaluate the state's Medicaid program and place a temporary hold on hospital closures. In addition, health care professionals would be required to take training on implicit bias in order to renew their licenses.

Illinois House Republicans such as state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, supported the broader intent of the bill, along with some smaller provisions within it.

"I think the focus that we need to place on ending health disparities, especially those that manifest themselves along the lines of race, and that have become so visible during this COVID pandemic are very, very important," said Spain.

But Republicans primarily focused on the financial impact of the bill. They said the overall bill would cost the state between $5 billion and $12 billion, though Lilly said an estimate on the cost of the bill is a work-in-progress. 

Spain expressed concern over the possibility of federal assistance funds under the American Rescue Plan Act going toward the bill.

"If we begin to take special one-time federal money and apply it to new spending like this, we're doing a terrible disservice to the taxpayers of Illinois, to the people that require health care improvements in all of their communities," said Spain.

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said Democrats needed to figure out where to make cuts to the state budget to make the bill work.

"We're not talking Monopoly money," said Davidsmeyer. "We don't have a printing press in the state of Illinois. This is real money. So something has to be cut."

But Lilly said the state has the resources to make the changes reality. 

"What we don't have is the priority to make sure that everyone has access to health care, that has access to quality of life, and that has access to the necessity to keep them well and alive," said Lilly. "On both sides of the aisle, we see that this is a priority, and we need to sit down and make sure we fund these areas."

All 72 House Democrats voted in favor of the bill. It now moves to the Senate.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.
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