Illinois’ current system of treating people struggling with substance abuse and mental illness with Medicaid dollars is inefficient and ripe for transformation, a state official said.

Illinois Deputy Gov. Trey Childress said the state is failing to get ahead of severe mental-health and drug-abuse problems. 

“We’re not preventing, we’re not providing earlier interventions, and we’re letting it spiral out of control, and it’s very expensive for the state to provide services when it is that far out of control for an individual.”
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The Rauner administration is gathering public comments for a waiver to get $2.7 billion in federal money for Illinois' programs. Administration officials said the plan should include new initiatives that will save money to be reinvested over time.

Childress said focusing on technology upgrades alongside mental-health and drug-abuse treatment will go a long way. 

“What we’re suggesting is being a better steward of taxpayer dollars,” Childress said. “This is far more efficient, and frankly, it’s just better for the citizen.”

Childress said no additional state tax dollars will be needed for the plan.

Members of the state’s law enforcement community, mental health professionals and community-service groups applauded the state’s proposal.

Dr. Kari Wolf, chairwoman of psychiatry at the SIU School of Medicine, has worked on similar waivers in other states and said Illinois’ plan looks good. 

“My experience is that this is a powerful way to transform the health care delivery system to create innovative programs that improve health care and reduce cost to the system.”

Wolf said finding savings is tremendously important for the system’s sustainability. When Wolf assisted with a similar waiver in Texas, she said they saw savings outside of the health care sector.

There was a large reduction in violent crime in the Austin, Texas, area Wolf said.

“That wasn’t because mentally ill people were committing these crimes,” Wolf said. “It’s because law enforcement wasn’t babysitting mentally ill patients in their emergency departments, and instead could get back on the streets to police the streets.”

Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp praised the state’s proposal, but said, “I just hope the money goes where we need it.” Kettelkamp said his county sees a lot of drug users in need of behavioral services instead being processed through the criminal-justice system.

Emily Miller represents the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities and praised the proposal. 

“We are very encouraged by what we see on paper,” Miller said. “We’re encouraged by what we have heard previously and what we hear here today.”

The state expects to formally file for the waiver with the federal government next month.
(Copyright WBGZ /