Improving healthcare access in Illinois with an equity-centric transformation

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Pritzker administration recently announced a new plan to ensure access to healthcare for all Illinoisans.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services hopes to work with lawmakers and community groups to address the structural determinants of healthcare. HFS researchers heard stories from many struggling to get proper care due to longstanding cultural and economic barriers.

The department would start this process with pilot programs and grants for safety net and critical access hospitals. Director Theresa Eagleson says the department would set aside $150 million from its annual budget for a pool to realign state resources.

“We do think long-term we need to work on reorienting the entire system around people and communities and not around the four walls of individual providers,” Eagleson said.

However, HFS can’t move forward with its vision without a bill passing through the General Assembly. The Legislative Black Caucus held several virtual hearings about improving access to care. Still, legislative leaders canceled veto session due to growing concerns with COVID-19. Lawmakers can’t address this plan until January unless they return for a special session.

“I think it is important that the Department of Healthcare & Family Services is looking at health outcomes and health disparities in its vision for healthcare transformation,” said Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park). “I look forward to working with a final plan which addresses healthier communities and the quality of life for the citizens of Illinois.”

Eagleson agrees with lawmakers that the “status quo” doesn’t give people the healthcare they want or deserve. That’s why HFS spoke with people in disproportionately impacted communities to figure out what they need.

Transformation plan from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Healthcare in the community

She says social determinants account for at least 50% of a community’s health outcomes. As a result, she feels the state needs a community wellness approach.

“How do we do a better job with the resources that we have brining better outcomes and quality of life to individual consumers and communities? I think we do that by the old fashioned way of sharing and talking to each other,” Eagleson explained.

She also noted the transformation should include funds separate from the state’s budget from corporations and philanthropy. Eagleson said the administration hopes to test the collaborative models of payment and healthcare. They would also analyze a 3-4 year timeline of sustainable healthcare services for communities.

“We believe in this administration that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. I often think how fortunate I am to be able to have access to healthcare when I need it,” Eagleson said. “I mean, everyone deserves that.”

HFS covers 3.1 million Illinoisans on Medicaid, roughly a quarter of the state’s population.