Illinois Law Invests $150 Million to Tackle Health Care Disparities

A new bipartisan law signed by Illinois' governor aims to tackle health disparities seen in the state's most vulnerable populations.

In March, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D) has signed an equity-driven health care and hospital transformation plan into law, which aims to increase access to community-based health services and create innovative collaborations through investments in underserved communities.

The state will initially invest $150 million into collaboratives to fill health care gaps and focus on underlying conditions in these areas. Funds will be matched by the federal government.

Data show the nation’s most vulnerable residents have consistently borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the myriad of imminent health challenges facing these populations.

Under the bipartisan law, investments will be directed to areas ranked high on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)—a system consisting of 15 U.S. census variables grouped into four themes, including socioeconomic status, household composition, race/ethnicity/language, and housing/transportation. Communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and areas served by critical access and safety net hospitals, including rural parts of Illinois, will also receive funding.

“Inequities in the health care 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,” Gov. Pritzker said.

All entities looking to receive funding in the first round must submit a proposal by April 9. Those not ready to submit proposals or who need assistance can access support services through the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) and can apply for future rounds of funding, with the second round scheduled for later this year. Funding is also available to entities eligible to bill the state’s Medicaid program.

According to HFS, the plan consists of 4 key components:

  • ​Focus on community needs, for all levels of health care, with an emphasis on addressing social and structural determinants of health.
  • Improve health and wellness for individuals and communities.
  • Tailor solutions to meet the unique needs of individual communities.
  • Invest in projects, large and small, that improve outcomes, decrease disparities, and are sustainable over time.

“This [law] 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," said House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). "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."

Community focus groups, conducted as part of research and development, revealed residents in the state’s vulnerable communities wish to have more of a voice in creating solutions to meet their unique needs. Taking this into account, the bill requires providers consider barriers residents have faced when seeking quality care. All partnerships will also be evaluated through a racial equity lens before funds are awarded.

Applications, reports, outcomes and best practices learned will be posted on the HFS website, while the law also stipulates the creation of a working group to help guide safety net hospital designations and racial equity factors.

The legislation “encourages the design of better, more collaborative care and creates a pathway to better health outcomes in distressed communities across Illinois, particularly in communities of color most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," said HFS Director Theresa Eagleson.

“Improving access to quality health care and creating better outcomes is at the heart of this legislation. I'm eager to see what these collaboratives create and the solutions they find to get to better health outcomes for communities across Illinois,” said Sen. Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights).