The state plans to pursue federal approval for a Medicaid waiver that would bring $2.7 billion in new federal dollars to help care for persons with mental illness and those battling substance abuse problems, benefiting as many as 800,000 Illinois residents with behavioral health issues. The waiver would not expand Medicaid eligibility, but would allow the state to provide health-care assistance to many individuals currently living without much-needed treatment or assistance. Twenty-five percent of the state’s 3.2 million Medicaid residents live with mental health issues, substance dependency issues or both, and they account for 56 percent of all Medicaid spending.
The Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services said that the waiver would amount to a 3.75 percent overall increase in state Medicaid spending over a five-year period. The additional financial support for employment and housing services would bring greater stability to many Medicaid recipients, which would greatly improve their quality of life. The waiver would also ensure individuals have access to the right type of care at the right time in the right setting, rather than “boarding” individuals with behavioral issues in emergency departments, hospitals or prisons due to the lack of a suitable care provider. Sara Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, was quoted in the State Journal-Register as saying that the waiver proposal shows “a really strong vision for behavioral health” that is “decades ahead of where we’ve been.”