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Jacquelyn Sommer

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Medicaid Transformation Discussed at Illinois BHECON Forum

September 8, 2016 | Medicaid | Comments
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There is hope for a stronger and more comprehensive behavioral health care system in Illinois.  That was the message heard by a packed room of attendees at the August 30 BHECON forum in Normal, Illinois. Created as a means to unite diverse stakeholders around discussions of behavioral health policy, BHECON’s first event in Illinois focused on the state’s recently released Medicaid Transformation Waiver and opportunities to strengthen its proposals.

Although Illinois has faced challenges in the structure and funding of behavioral health care services, providers and community leaders in attendance expressed hope that the proposed 1115 Medicaid waiver would be the start of a transformation of services across the state.  James Dimas, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, provided an overview of the current state of behavioral health services, noting that 25% of Illinois Medicaid enrollees with behavioral health needs account for 56% of program costs.

Secretary Dimas’ presentation was followed by a panel discussion of behavioral health providers, who discussed dilemmas their organizations face in providing care.  The recent budget impasse has sparked concerns about providers’ continuing operations and paying staff without secure funding.  However, panelists agreed that the outlines of the 1115 waiver seemed promising, while noting the importance of refining the plan’s details to ensure successful implementation of its goals.

Several provisions within the 1115 waiver include expanding supportive housing, increasing crisis intervention services, and improving telehealth and tele-psychiatry services in the hopes of decreasing utilization of emergency services and incarceration.  Providers also expressed support for the Certified Behavioral Health Clinics demonstration, which supports providers in offering a comprehensive array of services through an enhanced Medicaid reimbursement rate.

A second panel discussion highlighted the perspectives of individuals with lived experience, who shared their own experiences accessing care through the behavioral health system.  Several panelists expressed the importance of expanding the availability of services proposed in the 1115 waiver and ensuring that consumers’ voices are at the table during discussions on Illinois’ Medicaid transformation.

BHECON forums raise policymakers’ awareness of the challenges facing our behavioral health system by generating data-driven discussions on needed policy reforms. Forums will continue throughout the year in five states, with the next forum scheduled for September 22nd, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. For more information about BHECON, visit our website at