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Pritzker signs equity-focused healthcare bill

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On Friday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed an equity-driven healthcare and hospital transformation plan that will invest in underserved communities, increasing access to community-based health services and creating collaborations that bridge gaps in the delivery of care.

With support from federal matching funds, Illinois will invest $150 million into collaboratives that fill healthcare gaps and focus on underlying health conditions in areas high on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability index scale, communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and areas served by critical access and safety net hospitals, including rural parts of the state.

“Inequities in the healthcare system existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and if we don’t take action now, they will exist after the pandemic too. Our responsibility now is to expand accessible and equitable health systems all across Illinois and there’s no time to waste,” Pritzker said on Friday. “Today, when I sign the bipartisan Hospital and Healthcare Transformation Bill into law, Illinois will make a giant leap forward in that mission. Make no mistake: this legislation is a win for all Illinoisans. But none will benefit more than those who have been most disproportionately hurt by COVID-19, from our Black and Brown neighborhoods to rural communities to other historically underserved communities.”

Entities seeking funding in the program’s first round must submit their proposals on or before April 9, 2021. The application is available here. For communities that are not yet ready to submit proposals or need additional assistance, support services through Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will be available in the coming months in preparation for future rounds of funding. A second round of funding will be released later this year with additional healthcare transformation collaborative funding available in future years.

The funding is available to collaboratives of care providers including entities eligible to bill Illinois’ Medicaid program. Additional types of eligible providers include partnerships between clinical care settings and community-based organizations in one of six categories: collaboratives anchored by safety net hospitals, safety net-anchored collaboratives dedicated to specialty care access, critical access hospital-anchored collaboratives, collaboratives in distressed communities, cross-provider care partnerships and workforce innovation and diversity inclusion collaboratives.

HFS will provide consultants for future collaboratives that require some assistance, and all partnerships will be evaluated using a racial equity lens before funds are awarded.
 
The state’s Business Enterprise Program requirements for the collaboratives will open opportunities for minority firms to engage at all levels including as collaboration conveners, equity partners or subcontractors.  Proposals with significant minority participation will be prioritized when the dollars are awarded. In order to qualify as a BEP vendor, entities must be at minimum 51% owned and controlled by people who are minorities, women or persons with a disability.

In the interest of transparency and accountability for both HFS and the collaboratives that are created, applications, reports, outcomes, proof of community engagement, BEP metrics, and best practices learned will be posted on the department’s website. The new law also provides for the creation of a working group to help guide safety-net hospital designations, regional partnerships and racial equity factors.

“This creates an opportunity for communities across the state to come up with health care solutions that reduce disparities, are community focused and remove obstacles that exist to accessing quality care,” House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said. “If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we need to prioritize a health care system that reaches all Illinoisans, and these collaboratives will work to do just that.”

“The hospital transformation program is a unique and exciting opportunity to invest in better healthcare access for the people of Illinois. After years of bipartisan work on this innovative program, today’s bill signing signals a new opportunity to meet the needs of underserved communities in both urban and rural areas,” said State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). “These funds help demonstrate our commitment to improving health outcomes, and I look forward to seeing the transformation dollars at work.”

HFS is scheduling webinars for interested parties. For more information about healthcare transformation, visit hfs.illinois.gov/transformation.

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