QUINCY -- Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a series of laws last Wednesday that are meant to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment across the state.
Among the five laws is the Early Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Act, which requires the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to develop a pilot program under which adolescents and young adults may receive mental health treatment from a community support team that is specifically tailored to the needs of youth and young adults in the early stages of a serious emotional disturbance or serious mental illness.
The law fills in some gaps in Medicaid funding for mental health treatment, making treatment more accessible to people.
The bill was promoted by the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition, a conglomeration of nonprofits and various mental health organizations from across Illinois. Transitions of Western Illinois participated in the coalition's efforts.
"We saw the need to encourage the system to intervene earlier with people before they are so impaired," said Mark Schmitz, Transitions executive director. "Research shows that with severe and persistent mental illness, if you intervene early, the outcomes are better."
Over 850,000 Illinois youth are affected by mental health conditions, and 75 percent of those conditions begin by 24.
The pilot programs will emphasize evidence-based practices in early intervention of such conditions. The programs, which will comprise a multidisciplinary team, will focus on in-home and in-community services that promote youth-specific engagement strategies, family psycho-education and family involvement, youth-specific pyschotherapies, expertise in the school and university systems, coordination for primary care and medication management, problem-solving case management, education and employment.
"In the past, the thought was that the best intervention to reduce their stress and not put too many pressures on them in life, but that approach ended up splitting people from the supports (such as work and school) that make them less impaired," Schmitz said, "The first episode psychosis programs are encouraging support early on that keeps people in the normal pathways they have in their typical life."
The law requires the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to develop a similar pilot program for early intervention for individuals with opioid and other drug addictions.
"The addiction programs are taking a page out of what's worked in mental health," Schmitz said. "It removes many of the barriers for people seeking treatment."
Rauner also signed into law Wednesday the Community-Law Enforcement Partnership for Deflection and Addiction Treatment Act. Deflection programs involve law enforcement facilitating contact between an individual and a treatment provider or clinician for assessment and coordination of treatment.
"It's a big step in the right direction," said Adams County State's Attorney Gary Farha. "If we can get people thinking in the right way, and not having to deal with these issues, they will likely be more law abiding."
Farha said Adams County's new mental health court begins Sept. 1. Referrals to the court will be made largely by law enforcement agencies and attorneys. To be considered for the court, an individual must undergo an evaluation by the team, which features representatives from each Adams County mental health agency, and have a recognizable mental illness.
Advocates say Rauner's action strengthens the attack on the opioid crisis and puts behavioral health care on par with other types of medical care.
The laws allow immediate access for addiction treatment without prior authorization, require insurance coverage for mental health and addiction treatment that's equal to other coverage, and create an aggressive approach to recognizing and treating mental health problems in young people.
Another law requires Medicaid reimbursement for long-distance tele health treatment. HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield founded the Illinois Telehealth Network. Spokesmen say it's critical for underserved and rural areas.
"When people can access treatment voluntarily, in a way they can afford, there is a better outcome," Schmitz said. "When you have people with untreated mental health and substance abuse conditions, the entire community pays a price."
The Associated Press ?contributed to this report.