In this interview, Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D – Chicago), discusses what healthcare problems his constituents are facing, how he’s addressing Illinois residents’ healthcare needs, and his legislative agenda for 2023.
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State of Reform: What’s the biggest healthcare problem that’s facing your constituents right now?
Rep. La Shawn K. Ford: “Access. Even President Obama with all his political power had to try to get affordable healthcare to everyone. When you think about healthcare, we really need to have access to healthcare for people. I think that it’s very important that people qualify for Medicaid. However, there is this new doughnut hole of people that are not covered because they can’t afford [healthcare]. This includes business owners and small business owners who are not working for an employer.
In the areas that I represent, one of the largest sectors of the district that I serve, the pandemic proved there is a healthcare disparity and a lot of healthcare challenges for people. People with critical health challenges like diabetes, asthma, substance abuse disorder, and poverty, which adds health challenges [for] an individual.”
SOR: What healthcare policies are you working on or planning to work on this session?
LF: “The number one healthcare policy that I’ll be working on is to give access to therapy for chronic diseases like cancer, anxiety, and PTSD. I am trying to pass a bill called ‘CURE,’ which will make sure that we work to help people that are struggling with different types of health conditions.
Another bill I am working on is House Bill 2, which is to have safe overdose prevention sites. The state of Illinois will set up a program where people will have the ability to go into safe places to prevent fatal overdoses when they’re struggling with substance abuse disorders.
[The bill will grant] the ability to use heroin in a healthcare setting, and, at the same time, have someone in the healthcare setting provide individual users mental health support, behavioral health support, and other medical necessities that they may have been avoiding. We will have an opportunity for people to have housing in these centers and allow them to get treatment to prevent them from using heroin or fentanyl, which is now replacing heroin.
This is not just an Illinois problem. This is a national and international problem. The fact is, this problem really impacts my district and Black communities, which impacts them more than any other communities in the nation.
So, we’re going to do everything we can to meet people where they’re at and provide them with the harm reduction support they need to prevent fatal overdoses.”
SOR: What is your outlook for this upcoming session?
LF: “This is a long, two-year general assembly, and we have lots of priorities. I’m the chair of [the] Higher Ed Appropriations [Committee]. So, I want to make sure that everyone that wants to go to college in Illinois can afford to go for free to our public universities. It is critical that we continue to build upon things that we have right, and even draw people from border states and internationally to our public university. We want to make our public universities very affordable and free for our citizens here in Illinois, which is critical for me.
Another mission that I have is to make sure that we have universal childcare for our people. Especially for those that cannot afford to pay for high-quality childcare. We have to make sure that we give families and their [children] from the age of birth to six that boost. So, no child is left out of [the] learning environment for Illinois.
We definitely have to do everything that we can to bring some justice to the cannabis space in Illinois. It’s critical that we support the Black, brown, and women cannabis owners so that they can open up their dispensaries and their cultivation centers to be a part of this multibillion-dollar industry in Illinois.
We passed legislation to end the War on Drugs. Our goal was to make sure that we gave opportunities to people that were impacted from communities that were impacted [by the War on Drugs], and Illinois so far has fallen short. We have to push to make sure that we provide the support for individuals in Illinois to have a successful business.
After serving their prison term, we need to allow individuals to regain their voting rights. Those voting rights were taken away by [the] Illinois Constitution some time ago. Our goal is to restore that right. We need to end solitary confinement as well.
The list goes on, but one last thing I want to say, I want to make sure that accurate history is taught in our schools. This is something that I’ve been working on for a number of years. Not just Black history but accurate history, that is inclusive of everybody, every culture, and every background. Whether you’re Black, white, gay, straight, Asian, doesn’t matter. Whatever religion you are, even if it doesn’t feel good, we need to teach accurate history in our schools.”
SOR: Anything else you would like to add about healthcare priorities in Illinois?
LF: “If Illinois is serious about healthcare, we can be penny-wise and pound-foolish. The best way to protect taxpayers’ dollars is to invest wisely. We have to make sure that everyone has preventive healthcare and access to a primary care doctor. Illinois must do something about our managed care organizations, which we spend billions of dollars investing in. They have to do their job to manage the care of citizens in Illinois and make sure that there’s no qualified person who is missing healthcare in Illinois right now.
We know that there are insurable people that are poor that still do not have health insurance. Our managed care facilities have the responsibility of seeking those people out and providing them healthcare, and also making sure that they receive the healthcare they need in order to prevent long-term health challenges.
I had prostate cancer, I caught it early, it did not metastasize. That’s why we need to make sure people have the ability to see a doctor so they can catch the cancer early.”
This interview was edited for clarity and length.