Pritzker signs expansive health care access, equity proposal

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Tuesday to make health care more accessible and equitable, particularly for people of color.

The wide-ranging law includes provisions reducing sales taxes to 1% on blood-sugar test kits and prioritizing state funding for Illinois communities with high rates of violence. It’s the last of four pillars for racial justice authored by the Legislative Black Caucus that the Democratic governor has signed into law.

Republicans swiftly criticized Pritzker for endorsing programs they said will cost billions of dollars while the state remains deeply in debt.

The measure, which lawmakers approved in an all-night January session, establishes training and certification for newly created community health workers who are more accessible than traditional health professionals, adds bias training to medical training and targets high-violence areas for more state funding for health care and eliminating the causes of violence.

“For centuries, Black people have been disrespected, abused and misused in the name of health care, starting with the abuse of the enslaved,” said Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat. “To prevent future harm to one of our most vulnerable populations, we have enacted this informed policy with the goal of deep, intense reform.”

The law broadens paid sick leave for the care of additional family members, requires proposed hospital closures to be studied for their racial equity impact, and creates a state anti-racism commission to root out systemic racial bias.

It promotes training in childhood emotional learning, trauma and adverse experiences for daycare workers and prohibits imposing criminal charges on anyone who seeks medical assistance for an overdose of narcotics. It creates additional commissions to study improved health care and human services for state residents and to develop a program to assist business owners who are women, people of color or disabled.

Eleni Demertzis, spokeswoman for House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, accused Pritzker of “inaccurate rhetoric” on the law’s affordability.

“The governor signed a bill that will cost billions of dollars of fantasy money we just don’t have,” Demertzis said.

She said Republicans’ plea during legislative debate for a fiscal note – in which costs of a program are delineated – was rejected by majority Democrats.

Legislative Black Caucus members last summer took advantage of the lull prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, convened public hearings and crafted their four-pillar program, which also includes an overhaul of criminal justice practices, a crackdown on predatory lending and unfair housing practices, and expanded educational opportunities.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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