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Illinois Mental Health

Our View: Illinois Behavioral Health Care Gets a Cynical Embrace from Gov. Pat Quinn


If Governor Pat Quinn ever wonders why the public, the press and the legislature find his approach to governing to be incoherent and frustrating, and at times cynical, he needs only to consider his recent whip-lash-inducing turn on behavioral health care policy.

Last week Quinn held a bill-signing ceremony at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health in Arlington Heights, and he issued a press release that stressed the importance to “improve behavioral health care throughout Illinois.”

The Governor signed one bill that requires insurance companies to provide parity in coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders and approved another to build regional networks to improve behavioral health care throughout Illinois.

“No one should be forced to forgo critical mental health care because of where they live or because their insurance charges more for the necessary treatment,” said Quinn. “These laws will increase equality throughout the state and advance our goal to improve the health of all Illinois residents.”

So far, so good.

Quinn deserves credit for approving the new laws. However, what went unacknowledged at the event were the governor’s efforts to slash funding for mental health care and substance abuse treatment earlier this year.

This is where it all goes south.

The governor proposed a Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which began on July 1, 2011, that sought to cut $33 million from mental health care, depriving care to approximately 20,000 individuals, principally the working poor. He also sought to cut all state funding, $63 million, for substance prevention and treatment, a move that would have eliminated care to 55,000 people out of the 69,000 currently served.

Additionally, Quinn had sought in March to drastically cut funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment in the last quarter of the 2011, throwing behavior healthcare providers into chaos. They turned away new patients and cut services to others.

In both instances, the legislature fought to roll-back Quinn’s cuts and to preserve the governor’s principles. Quinn reversed the 2011 mid-year cuts after a legislative and news media uproar. In the current budget, lawmakers ignored Quinn’s proposal and partially succeeded in restoring behavioral health care funding. However, that effort remains a work in process.

When Quinn came to office in 2009, he campaigned publicly for an income tax increase alongside human service providers, like behavioral health care agencies, warning lawmakers he would be forced to impose deep budget cuts on these agencies without their approval of a tax hike.

In 2011, with a legislatively-approved income tax increase safely in hand, Quinn moved promptly to impose mid-year budget cuts on behavioral health care providers and wipe out large chunks of their funding this year.

Observers of the governor’s event at the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health last week could be forgiven their unspoken cynicism towards Quinn.

The cynicism will also likely be unforgotten.

About David Ormsby

David, a public relations consultant and blogger at The Huffington Post, is an ex-Press Secretary of the Illinois Democratic Party.

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David Ormsby, Editor

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