Q&A: State Sen. Laura Fine on her healthcare priorities and outlook for Illinoisans’ behavioral health for the 2023 – 2024 legislative session
In this interview, Sen. Laura Fine (D – Glenview), discusses what healthcare problems her constituents are facing, how she’s addressing Illinois residents’ healthcare needs, her legislative bills that are pre-filed, and her family’s experience with mental health.
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State of Reform: What are the biggest healthcare problems facing your constituents right now?
Sen. Laura Fine: “Affordability and access.
When it comes to affordability, Illinois does not have teeth in our rate review. When it comes to insurance rates, our Department of Insurance does not have the strength it needs to deny a rate that may be too high. I think if we had a stronger rate review in the state of Illinois, it would give consumers confidence that the rates they are paying for are in line with what their policies should be.
When it comes to access, I chair the Mental and Behavioral Health Committee, and everybody knows that we’re in a workforce shortage across the board. It’s really hit the mental health and behavioral health providers. We have such a high demand and it’s very difficult to meet that demand. Last year we passed a very large omnibus bill that really looks at how we can grow the workforce in Illinois. So now we’ve planted the seeds and we have to see the growth.
SOR: What do you hope the Mental and Behavioral Health committee will accomplish during this legislative session?
LF: “A number of things. We are very lucky in Illinois because we have standing committees in both the House and the Senate, which focus on mental and behavioral health and substance use disorder.
We have been able to accomplish great progress when it comes to ensuring that people get the care that they need. That being said, we are far from the finish line in accomplishing what needs to get done. Like I said, we’ve passed this omnibus bill last year that has to do with the workforce. We have to make sure that the legislation that we’ve already passed, when it comes to mental health, has the opportunity to reach its potential, which we’re watching right now.
When it comes to other legislation, we’re really working on, ‘What can we do to eliminate the stigma and what can we do to make sure that access is available, especially for children?’ Mental health has always been an issue, but coming out of COVID, it’s gaining even more attention. We have to make sure that people who need the support can get the support that they need.
We are looking at how we roll out our 988 [Suicide & Crisis Lifeline] program in such a way that it is successful and meets all its goals. We have to make sure that if you are in a mental health crisis you receive the mental health response that you need and not necessarily a law enforcement response. I think that’s really going to be a game changer.”
SOR: What healthcare policies are you specifically working on this session?
LF: “A number of bills right now. Senate Bill 54 would ensure that insulin pumps are covered by your insurance. Sometimes insurance can be confusing because the laws that we pass only impact the insurance policies that are regulated by the state. ERISA plans don’t abide by them and Medicare plans do not abide by them. So right now, even though the federal government does require [insulin pumps] to be covered, we need to make sure that this is written in Illinois law, in case something happens [at the federal level].
Another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 56, would expand consumers options when purchasing a Medicare supplement policy. SB 56 would include any affiliate authorized to transact [Medicare] business in Illinois, on behalf of the issuer that offers benefits, equal or lesser than the benefits provided by the previous coverage.
Senate Bill 69 would lower the offering age of the flu vaccine for inpatient patients being discharged from the hospital. SB 69 would lower [the age] to 50 and older instead of the current age, which is 65 and older.
I talked about expanding the workforce. Senate Bill 137 adds licensed clinical professional counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists to the list of recipients that would be eligible for a one-time fee waiver, which is so important because we need more of these professionals in our workforce.”
SOR: What are your outlooks for this upcoming 2023-24 legislative session?
LF: “Right now, all the legislation is being filed. We’re working on deadlines right now, and our committees have not yet met. I have not seen what many of my colleagues are going to be bringing to the mental health committee. But what I would like to see worked on would be expanding mental health, especially for our youth.
Many times, we find, especially with children who are in crisis, we do not have either enough beds or enough providers to care for those children. This situation leaves families in crisis. We really want to work on what [we can] do to create more positive outcomes for these situations. We know that if you are in a mental health crisis, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to impact your life in a negative way for the future. If you get the proper care you need, you can have a very successful healthy life, and we want to make sure that those are the outcomes for our youth.
In addition, I’d like to see more progress with the rollout of 988 [Suicide & Crisis Lifeline]. We need to make sure that everybody who does call the 988 hotline gets a mental health professional answering the call, and that the professional is able to guide that patient to either a living room setting and find them the inpatient care or the provider that they need to help them navigate their crisis.”
SOR: Why is behavioral health a critical priority of yours?
LF: “I don’t think there is anybody who escapes the issue of mental health within their own family. I know that for me personally, about 13 years ago my husband was in a devastating car accident that resulted in him not only losing a limb but put him, unfortunately, in a suicidal spiral.
Because of the fact that he got the proper care that he needed, he’s doing great. We learned from our own family experiences how you can hit rock bottom, but, if you get the proper care that you need, you can climb back up to the top and lead a happy and successful life. I want every family who ever has to live through that type of experience to know that you can come out on the other side. Until we treat mental health the same as physical health, our job is not done.
I just think we’re in a very exciting and pivotal time right now. Whereas a country, as a community, and as a state, we are finally talking about mental health in the forefront. As a result of that, we are going to see positive changes, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of the future and a part of these positive changes”
This interview was edited for clarity and length.