click to enlarge Elissa Bassler of the Public Health Institute testifies virtually Monday before the Senate Health and Human Services and Public Health committees about the need for statewide data collection of detailed health care information from every Illinois community. - PHOTO COURTESY BLUEROOMSTREAM.COM
Photo courtesy blueroomstream.com
Elissa Bassler of the Public Health Institute testifies virtually Monday before the Senate Health and Human Services and Public Health committees about the need for statewide data collection of detailed health care information from every Illinois community.

State legislators heard testimony from health care experts Nov. 9 on policies the state could pursue to address racial disparities in health outcomes and access.

That testimony was given during a joint hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services and Public Health committees prompted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which has highlighted health care disparities in the past.

Legislators, in Monday's hearing and in past hearings, have referenced significantly higher maternal mortality rates, higher infant mortality rates, and higher rates of COVID-19 positivity and COVID-related deaths among Blacks and Latinos, in Illinois and nationwide, compared to their white counterparts.

According to Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute, a necessary component of good policy to address existing disparities is good data.

In her testimony before the joint hearing, Bassler said the state needed to collect better data in order to use public funds strategically. Otherwise, much-needed public funds could be inadequately disbursed, treating symptoms of disparities but not addressing root causes to actually address them.

"Traditional public health data on births, causes of deaths and certain diseases collected by existing methods don't do enough to help communities, local government and the state understand local health concerns and community and social factors associated with health," she said. "Nor do they help identify policies and interventions that address health inequities."

Bassler suggests lawmakers fund an annual statewide "Healthy Illinois" survey in the same model, broken down by ZIP code, which would extract information from residents on a wide range of topics such as access to health services, levels of civic engagement, childhood experiences, chronic health conditions, diet and financial security.

The data from the survey would be used by various state agencies involved in health and human services and would be available to municipal governments and private stakeholders such as hospitals and medical nonprofits, and would include every Illinois community as well as Chicago.

Bassler estimated the annual cost to the state to conduct the survey, if Chicago was included, would range from $1.75 million to $2.5 million depending on how detailed and how many interviews would be conducted.

Drs. Vida Henderson and Karriem Watson, who work at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, told lawmakers about the significant disparities in cancer screening for Blacks and, by extension, the high rate of mortality when it comes to lung cancer, breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men, in comparison to their white counterparts.

The pair of doctors advised lawmakers to invest money in pipelines to invest in Black and Latino communities on both ends of health care.

"This will allow us to increase the diversity in the health care workforce," Watson said.

The Illinois Psychiatric Society and Southern Illinois University School of Medicine each submitted written testimony of policy proposals to the joint committee.

Their proposals included expanding telehealth services and insurance coverage for underserved communities, allowing more services to be billed to Medicaid, and supporting public relations and early education to inform communities about mental and substance use disorders and treatment, diet and best social and behavioral practices to preserve long-term health.

Monday's hearing was the final planned joint meeting of the Senate Public Health and Health and Human Services committees to address the Black Caucus' agenda. Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, who chaired the hearing, said in a news release Monday that she and the caucus are ready to reform the state's health care system.

Contact Raymon Troncoso at rtroncoso@capitolnewsillinois.com.

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