Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: August 31


AGRICULTURE
·        Ag-boosting measures signed into law.  At the Du Quoin State Fair on Saturday, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Industrial Hemp Act, Senate Bill 2298, adding Illinois to a growing number of states that permit growth of cannabis cultivated for non-drug uses such as paper- and fabric-making, biodegradable plastics, construction materials and health food. 

The governor also signed House Bill 5749, easing weight-limit restrictions on state highways during harvest time, improving the competitive outlook for Illinois farmers and agricultural commodities haulers. Both measures will enhance one of the state’s leading industries: farming.

“Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense,” Rauner said. “Roughly 38 states — including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee — have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well. This new state licensure program begins that process.”

“The Illinois Farm Bureau appreciates Gov. Rauner signing SB 2298 which legalizes the growing of industrial hemp by Illinois farmers,” said Richard Guebert Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau. “Illinois Farm Bureau policy, developed by our grassroots members, has long supported the production, processing, and utilization of industrial hemp. Illinois farmers will now have new opportunities to diversify their farms by growing this versatile crop.”

The Industrial Hemp Act, effective immediately, creates a state licensure program through the Department of Agriculture that enables those who desire to grow the crop to do so. The state Department of Agriculture shall establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

“Gov. Rauner knows the importance of agriculture to the Illinois economy and I truly appreciate his approval of this legislation,” said Rep. Tim Butler, chief sponsor of SB 2298 in the House. “The production of industrial hemp has broad support among our farmers and rural families, as they know this will add another potentially significant crop that can be grown in our state. In the early 20th century, Illinois was a national leader in hemp production and I look forward to us returning to that position.”

HB 5749 allows haulers to seek and obtain annual permits from the Illinois Department of Transportation and local authorities to exceed gross axle and gross vehicle weight limits by no more than 10 percent. Permits are to cost $500 with a total combined permit fee of no more than $1,000. State permit fees will go to the State Construction Account Fund.

“Neighboring states allow higher weight limits during harvest time without the requirement of having a harvest emergency declared,” Rauner said. “Illinois has an agriculture workforce that is second to none, and this legislation will help them to more efficiently get their crops to market.”

ECONOMY
·        University of Illinois Springfield becomes first hub of Illinois Innovation Network.  During the General Assembly’s spring 2018 session, the legislature built a foundation for job creation in the 21st century.  Working within the confines of the FY19 budget, the State allocated $500 million to the new Illinois Innovation Network.  The Network will build hubs throughout the state to connect team members with the Discovery Partners Institute.  The Institute will be a new high-tech neighborhood to be built in the Burnham Bend in Chicago’s South Loop.  Closely affiliated with the University of Illinois, the Institute will consist of teams that will bring together research and innovation projects from all over Illinois.

State and local officials announced on Tuesday, August 28 that the first hub of the Illinois Innovation Network will be part of the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS).  Seed money will refit existing office space in Springfield’s downtown, and support for the new hub project from Springfield’s mayor means that the Network may get new, purpose-built space soon for itself.   The new hub moves beyond UIS’ existing capacity as an “incubator” for small business to also include ultra-high-speed data links with other incubation locations and future Innovation Network hubs.  The hub creation was announced by Governor Rauner.

HEALTH INSURANCE
·        Gov. Rauner extends health insurance to fertility preservation.  Young cancer patients struggling for survival no longer have to give up the prospect of parenthood when they undergo potentially sterilizing treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.  

A new law (HB 2617) signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner amends the Illinois insurance code to require coverage of egg or sperm preservation, a well-established medical practice that gives hope to patients who receive life-saving cancer treatment that they can one day have their own children. 

“Thousands of young Illinois adults of child-bearing age are diagnosed with cancer each year,” said Rauner. “With this legislation, we give them a way to overcome the burden of high out-of-pocket expenses for egg or sperm freezing so they can preserve an option to have a family in the future.”

The Oncofertility Consortium at Northwestern University was one of many health care providers who supported the precedent-setting legislation. Illinois is the third, and by far the largest, state in the U.S. to enact a law requiring insurance coverage of fertility preservation. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island have similar laws.

“Every day in Illinois, 18 young adults and children are diagnosed with cancer,” said Teresa K. Woodruff, director of the Consortium, dean of the graduate school, and Watkins professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Today, the State of Illinois recognized that preserving fertility in the cancer setting is a medical need and that insurance should be provided to ensure young adults don’t have to choose between life-preserving treatments and fertility interventions,” she continued. “This is a win for science and more importantly, this is a win for families. This legislation will help young people and families make crucial decisions and help them afford the treatments.”

As a consequence of the Oncofertility Consortium and the organization of this new field of medicine, a cancer diagnosis is no longer associated with the fatal loss of fertility. HB 2617 demonstrates that fertility preservation has transitioned from research to standard of care. Now, young cancer patients will have access to insurance resources for their medical and fertility treatments.

Rauner noted that the signing of HB 2617 capped off a year of extraordinary advances for health care in Illinois. The goal has been to use evidence-based strategies to deliver higher quality care and slow the growth in health care costs.

The highlights include a $2 billion Medicaid waiver — Better Care Illinois — to pilot a dozen service innovations in mental health and substance abuse. Illinois also has been aggressively expanding its fight against opioids with programs in prevention, treatment and emergency response. The Governor’s Task Force on Medicaid Fraud has saved more than $450 million for Illinois taxpayers. Veterans and homeless veterans, physical therapy patients and the elderly have benefitted from greater access to care.

HB 2617 was widely supported by local and national health advocates, medical associations, insurance providers and nonprofits. Among them were the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Illinois State Medical Society, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Susan G. Komen Chicago and Gilda’s Club.

·        Rauner action will maintain consumer choice in health insurance.  The total veto of HB 2624 and amendatory veto of SB 1737 defended growing demand among Illinois residents for short-term, limited duration (STLD) health plan coverage.  STLD policies are important to a wide variety of Illinois residents who need health care coverage for a non-standard length of time that is shorter than one year.  Many Illinoisans who are in the process of developing their careers know that they will live in Illinois for a limited period of time.  They are subject to the overall federal law that mandates that uninsured individual Americans buy health coverage, but the standard one-year length of insurance coverage of plans offered in Illinois under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not meet these non-standard needs.

Democrats pushed HB 2624 through the legislature in the spring of 2018.  The bill contained onerous provisions intended to wipe out the ability of STLD health insurers to sell their policies to career-minded young Illinois adults.  Governor Rauner’s decision, announced on Sunday, August 26, to veto this bill will preserve the ability of all Illinoisans – especially young adults – to purchase health insurance that matches their own individual needs and budgets. 

HIGHER EDUCATION
·        Illinois public universities to provide $50 million in additional MAP grant aid.  The cost of this program will be split 50/50 between the Illinois state budget and by the universities where the student beneficiaries are enrolled.  Like existing MAP grants, the additional money will provide merit-based student funding to which students and their families will apply based upon financial need.  Financial need is determined by formula following the submission by students and their families of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) student aid eligibility form.  The MAP grant bill was signed on Sunday, August 26, by Governor Rauner.  

OPIOID CRISIS
·        New law strengthens effort to combat opioid crisis.  Gov. Bruce Rauner took another step Monday to strengthen the state’s effort to combat the opioid crisis by requiring medical professionals to take 3 hours of existing continuing education on how to safely prescribe opioid medications. The education requirement became law when he signed Senate Bill 2777 amending the Illinois Controlled Substance Act.

“We’re fighting this opioid crisis every day,” Rauner said. “It’s impacted too many families here in Illinois. We’ve given people who struggle with substance use more opportunities to get the help they need. We’ve started a 24-hour Helpline where they can get connected to treatment options. There’s a standing order for using opioid reversing Naloxone. We’ve boosted reporting requirements to our Prescription Monitoring Program to halt ‘doctor-shopping.’”

“Now, we want to make sure our doctors see potential signs of abuse and are cautious when prescribing opioid medications to those who need them, cutting back on the potential for addiction,” he continued.

Impacted professions that hold a separate controlled substance license include: Physicians, Podiatric Physicians, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, Physician Assistants, Dentists, Clinical Psychologists, Optometrists, and Veterinarians.

An estimated 11 million Americans have misused opioids in the past year, approximately 1.9 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and 4 out of 5 heroin users started out on prescription opioids

“This law along with the Department’s adoption of the Federation of State Medical Board’s Guidelines on the Use of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain in Administrative Rule (which became effective July 6) is a vital part of efforts to educate prescribers and is in line with the initiatives set forth by the Governor’s Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force,” said Jessica Baer, IDFPR Division of Professional Regulation Director. “The misuse of prescription opioids has become prolific and vastly contributed to the current epidemic Illinois faces.”

Illinois released its State Opioid Action Plan along with Executive Order 2017-05, establishing the Governor’s Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force in September 2017.

Former Deputy House Republican Leader Patti Bellock, now the Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, was the lead House sponsor of SB 2777.

·        Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 offers pain-management option.  Governor Rauner has signed the Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018, adding those who might otherwise seek opioids for pain management to the list of those eligible for medical marijuana.

“This law will give thousands of Illinoisans who struggle with the negative side effects of opioids, including harmful addiction, another choice to manage their pain,” the governor said. “This is not about personal opinions about cannabis. It’s about giving people more control over their own health care and pain-relief options.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports opioid deaths in Illinois increased 13 percent from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, the Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that states with medical marijuana dispensaries have seen a 14.4 percent decrease in the use of prescription opioids.

The new law, Senate Bill 336, puts in place a pilot program that will not compromise patient safety or diminish medical marijuana program standards, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Licensed physicians must certify an individual has a medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed. Participants must register at a licensed dispensary. The program is limited to individuals 21 and older. Dispensations are limited to 2.5 ounces every 14 days and cannot exceed 90 days per physician certification.

The Alternatives to Opioids Act of 2018 also allows those applying for a medical cannabis registry card for one of the qualified conditions to access medical cannabis while their application is being reviewed.

“Dealing with the opioid crisis in Illinois is a top priority for this administration, and it is one that requires innovative solutions,” Rauner said before the bill signing at Chicago Recovery Alliance this afternoon. “This law will help people avoid opioid addiction and that will save lives.”

“Opioids can be highly addictive in a very short period of time,” said IDPH Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah. “Because the number of opioid deaths continues to rise in Illinois, although at a much slower pace, we understand a person’s hesitancy in filling an opioid prescription. The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program will offer people another option in managing pain.”

“We’re facing a full-blown crisis in Illinois, especially in our rural communities, with the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Tim Butler, who co-sponsored the legislation in the House. “Expanding the use of medical cannabis as an alternative will reduce opioid use and help us truly get a handle on this epidemic. I applaud the governor for signing it into law.”

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