Anti-Heroin Law Helps Illinois Residents Treat Addiction, Unless You’re Poor

By Zachary Siegel 08/25/15

Major provisions of the new bill were cut by a multi-millionaire governor that would have helped low-income families with addiction.

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Bruce Rauner
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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) eliminated major provisions of the Heroin Crisis Act, a bill aimed to ameliorate several problems related to the state's severe opiate problem.

To save money, Rauner cut the state’s requirement that Medicaid pay for medication and treatment for lower-income people facing addiction problems. Rauner cited “unprecedented fiscal difficulties” as the reason for omitting the only measure that helps the poor.

"This is a critical component of this legislation; if the only people you affect are people that have insurance, then you haven't done that much. There is a whole swath of people out there who need healthcare from the state who have drug addictions," sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) told The Chicago Tribune.

"The governor is taking the position that we can't afford to save these lives," Lang said.

Those who supported the bill in its original form argue the governor's rewrites create an unfair situation in which those who can afford insurance get help for their addiction while low-income patients end up in ERs and drug courts. Trimming this part of the bill will prove to be burdensome in the long run, as Chicago has more heroin-related emergency room visits than any other metro area, nearly double the rate of New York City.

Chelsea Laliberte, an overdose prevention activist in Chicago who helped launch the bill, said “Today, Gov. Rauner failed to view the heroin crisis as comprehensively as we know it to be by eliminating the meat of the bill—covering treatment for Medicaid clients as well as covering the cost of naloxone for them."

“We get calls day in and day out from desperate families who cannot afford private insurance and rely on state assistance for care,” she added.

Nevertheless, Chelsea and others feel grateful that the bill, albeit watered down, will be signed off on. Lali’s Law, a section of the bill named after Chelsea’s brother who died from an overdose in 2008, still remains. This provision greatly increases access to naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

Among other sections of the bill that remain are initiatives to promote education and other community public health interventions.

Update: After weighing the options, Rep. Lang made the decision to override Rauner’s amendments to the anti-heroin bill. The reason being, Rauner’s cuts would be doing a great disservice to those of lower-incomes.

Advocates in Illinois are currently contacting Republican representatives across the state, lobbying for votes before the override veto session takes place in Springfield on September 2. A total of 71 votes are needed to override Rauner’s decision.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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