Citing lack of money, which would create “a very costly mandate on the Medicaid program,” Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday, gave another amendatory veto, this time on HB001, which would have given medical treatment options to heroin addicts, and most importantly allowed for two pharmaceutical interventions to be paid for from the Illinois Department of Human Services: methadone for harm reduction maintenance, and naloxone (Narcan) to reduce overdose deaths. The bill originally passed with overwhelming support by the legislature.
Rauner, while praising the work of the lawmakers that wrote, and sponsored, the bill, said that his veto was given because the state was “facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties.” Illinois has been locked into a political stalemate, and lacks a budget, now at eight weeks, between the rookie Republican governor, and the Democrats who control both the upper and lower chambers of the General Assembly. At heart is an ideological, and partisan, divide between the two on how to handle one of the nation’s largest unfunded pension liabilities, and the subsequent state fiscal fallout.
The lack of state dollars for the medications create a void for those that have insurance and those that don’t, and one of the goals of the bill was to address this inequality. The Chicago Tribune noted that the bill’s Chief Sponsor, State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) as saying, “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 health care from the state who have drug addictions.” He also remarked that “The governor is taking the position that we can’t afford to save these lives.”
“Heroin overdose deaths have been on the rise statewide since 2011, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. Last year, 633 heroin overdose deaths occurred in Illinois, up from 583 in 2013. In Cook County, heroin overdose deaths remained relatively stagnant last year, down eight to 283,” the Tribune also reported.
The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, in their recent report, found that “heroin admissions make up one-quarter of all treatment admissions for the state, and are 56% greater than the nation as a whole,” in contrast to national figures that show heroin related admissions are 16.4 percent of average total state funded treatments for 2012, the year available for the most complete data.
The rise of heroin use among Illinois youth has risen to 3.8 percent, over a six year period, in 2013 alone, nearly a 50 percent increase. Du Page County alone saw 33 deaths in 2014, which prompted lawmakers to propose a legislative remedy.
Even many of Rauner’s supporters are seeing this, the second amendatory veto on a drug reform bill, perhaps uncharitably as indicative of a lack of compassion, or a myopic view, at best, towards problems that are resulting in overincarceration, discrimination and death. Others feel that what is lacking on these pressing social issue is governance, leadership, and moral compassion.
Some, like Lang, are frustrated by efforts to work with the governor’s office. Calling the veto “short-sighted. He complained that he sought figures from the administration for months about the cost of the plan. He’s skeptical of the estimated annual price tag from the Department of Human Services — $15.4 million — and said no one counted the savings that would be realized by wresting addicts from heroin’s control,” noted NBC Chicago, the local affiliate.
The Times of Northwest Indiana, reported that State Sen. Donne Trotter, (D-Chicago) argued that the cost should not be a factor. “This is an issue that impacts all of us. We can’t afford not to do this,” Trotter said.
Methadone, a long-held harm reduction drug, has long been the treatment of choice,but Narcan, has been widely touted as successfully saving lives from overdose, and the loss of availability for those lacking insurance is wide. A key provision of the bill included a requirement that all police and fire departments stock the drug to prevent accidental deaths. Said, Lang, “You want to talk about the costs of providing methadone and Narcan to addicts, but you forget totally that if you cure them or they get off the stuff, there’s a savings to the Medicaid system on a different line item, because they’re no longer in emergency rooms, they’re no longer a burden to law enforcement.”
WIth no alternatives suggested, in his veto, Rauner seemed dismissive of the bill’s efforts, especially in consideration of Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly, who referencing the governor’s message, noted that “he supports the idea,” but hoped Lang “will accept the governor’s changes and move forward.”
In the final bill, the House voted 114-0; the Senate, 46-4. Lang has said he would urge for a reversal of the veto. A three-fifths vote to override in each House — 71 in the House, 36 in the Senate — “would restore the funding.” In an emailed statement, Wednesday, Lang, wrote, “I have filed an override motion and expect it to heard on the House floor on Wednesday.”