SPRINGFIELD – Illinois has earned sole recognition for the strongest mental health parity laws and policies in the country, according to new state report cards released this week.

Illinois was the only state with an ‘A’ grade (100/100) on the test of compliance with the Federal Parity Law, which calls for providing coverage of mental health and substance use disorders on par with other illnesses. Tennessee was second in the grading with a ‘C’ (79/100). Thirty-two states received failing grades in the assessment ‘Evaluating State Mental Health and Addiction Parity Statutes’ jointly released by the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity, The Kennedy Forum, The Carter Center, and Well Being Trust (WBT) Center.

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“Our administration’s focus on mental health and substance use disorders is paying off in better care and more comprehensive coverage for Illinoisans,” said Gov. Bruce Rauner. “Our goal is to lead the nation in providing high quality, cost efficient health care. The Kennedy-Satcher assessment score is a clear indicator for our progress. There is more work to do and our teams are working together to make more advances in these important areas of public health.”

In acknowledging the parity assessment, Rauner noted another advance in the state’s mental health program. Last summer, Illinois received a $2 billion Better Care Illinois 1115 Medicaid Waiver to pilot precedent-setting treatments for behavioral health. Thirteen state agencies worked with health care advocates to develop a plan to improve delivery of mental health and addiction services.

“Our ‘A’ grade on parity demonstrates how this administration is committed to treating mental health and substance use problems the same as other chronic physical conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” said Secretary James Dimas of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). “Too often, stigma impacts how behavioral health problems are covered and prevents individuals from seeking help. We believe that our parity laws in Illinois will lead to greater access to care for those struggling with mental health and substance use issues.”

The governor has made mental health and substance use disorder treatment a priority throughout his term, enacting landmark reforms such as the first-ever legislation allowing doctors to substitute medical marijuana for opioids. He also led the effort to begin partnerships between law enforcement agencies and licensed substance abuse service providers.

This summer, four years of work paid off, as the governor signed a major, bipartisan mental health package focused on comprehensive, evidence-based solutions. One of the bills, Senate Bill 1707, improves insurance companies’ coverage of mental health and substance use disorder treatments and strengthens the ability of the Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI) to protect consumers.

Illinois’ report card specifically notes that state has had, ‘strong implementation of [Illinois’] newly enacted parity statute.’

“Adoption of the strongest behavioral health parity law in the nation required bi-partisan cooperation as well as concessions by all stakeholders,” said Illinois Association for Behavioral Health Association C.E.O. Sara Moscato Howe. “Implementation of the new law by the state and a willingness for all parties to take the next steps to broaden and deepen the parity law will define its ultimate success, which is helping individuals facing mental health and substance use disorder challenges to live full lives.”

As the regulator charged with the implementation, IDOI Director Jennifer Hammer has worked tirelessly to provide consumers the right treatment, in the right place, at the right time.

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“It’s such an honor to lead the nation on such an important initiative,” Hammer said. “We’ve made a significant effort to listen to and implement advice from experts such as the Kennedy Forum to improve mental health parity in Illinois.”

"After enactment of SB 1707, Illinois now has the strongest mental health and addiction parity law in the country," said Cheryl Potts, executive director of The Kennedy Forum Illinois. "By increasing transparency and accountability in the coverage of mental health and addiction treatment, Illinois has built a solid foundation to improve health plans' compliance. Making parity a reality and increasing access to needed treatment, however, will depend on strong implementation of this new law and robust enforcement by regulators."

Beyond implementation, IDOI has utilized several tools provided to regulators, including multiple federal grants to improve department operations and consumer education regarding mental health parity.

“At IDOI we have been wholly committed to ensuring mental health parity in the health plans we regulate,” Hammer said. “We remain dedicated to bringing evidence-based treatment to our consumers and building a happier, healthier, more informed Illinois.”

This year, IDOI became the first state insurance department to conduct targeted mental health market conduct exams on insurance companies that sell on the Exchange. IDOI is also drafting the standard for other states to utilize during these examinations at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Illinois was the first and only state in the nation to seek and receive approval for a revised Essential Health Benefit Benchmark plan. The Access to Care and Treatment (ACT) Plan includes measures to reduce opioid addiction and expand access to mental health services in Illinois.

“The ACT Plan is a critical component in the state’s efforts to provide adequate and compassionate mental health treatment, and combat the opioid crisis,” Hammer said. “Access to a mental health provider can be life-changing. With the ACT Plan requiring insurance companies to cover tele-psychiatry, transportation or location will no longer be barriers to care. This isn’t just about rules and regulations, it’s about not giving up on people.”

The Rauner administration continues its efforts to address the opioid crisis through the Governor’s Prevention and Intervention Taskforce. The governor’s new Opioid Helpline has received over 6,000 calls in eight months and the Illinois State Police have trained approximately 1,600 officers in the use of NARCAN.

“We will continue to lead by example and push the country forward through progress in achieving mental health and substance use disorder parity,” Rauner said.

Consumers can learn more about receiving help with ensuring mental health parity by clicking HERE.

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