.grecaptcha-badge { visibility: hidden; }

Bills Would Increase Pharmacy Access, Allow Easier Gender Identity Changes To Birth Documents

Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD – The House Human Services Committee on Tuesday moved bills aimed at closing disparities in access to pharmacies and allowing transgender and intersex individuals to change their sex on their birth certificate.

Another measure would eliminate a requirement that individuals be deemed ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for prior felony drug convictions.

House Bill 591, introduced by Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, would prevent any Medicaid managed care organization that contracts with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services from restricting a person’s access to a certain group of pharmacies.

Those in the state’s Medicaid managed care assistance program would be able to receive pharmacy services of their choosing, as long as the pharmacy is licensed under the Pharmacy Practice Act and accepts certain fees as determined by DHFS.

It would also allow DHFS to negotiate with any pharmacy that has merged with or been acquired by another company in an effort to maintain continuity for those receiving care.

 The state would also be required to conduct a study of managed care services to identify “pharmacy deserts.”

Ford and proponents of the bill said the legislation would be key to increasing health care access for populations that do not have easy access to pharmacies due to distance, such as residents on the south and west sides of Chicago and some rural parts of the state.

Thomas Huggett, a doctor at Family Christian Health Center in Chicago, said the bill would begin to lift some restrictions on pharmacy access due to Medicaid requirements.

“I’ve seen firsthand how my patients have had problems obtaining their medications on the west side because of the pharmacy restrictions that have been put in place by managed care organizations,” Huggett said.

Hugget said in some cases, patients without access to transportation have had to walk upwards of two miles to receive prescription drugs from an eligible pharmacy.

Dima Qato, a licensed pharmacist and medical researcher, told the committee that the legislation would help address problems in prescription drug access that disproportionately affects low-income and rural populations.

Qato said that a July 2020 study revealed that half of majority-Black neighborhoods in Chicago were considered pharmacy deserts, meaning pharmacy was not located within a half mile of residents.

“HB 591 directly addresses the underlying cause of pharmacy closures, which affect more than one in seven pharmacies in Illinois,” Qato told the committee on Tuesday. “This risk is even greater in urban low-income, predominantly Black neighborhoods in Chicago, and if this legislation isn’t passed, pharmacy closures will increase.”

Opponents to the legislation, including Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said the bill would not relieve other pressures that lead to pharmacies closing, including financial pressures.

“A pharmacy could still have other business pressures that jeopardize their success, individuals could just choose not to go to a certain pharmacy and that could lead to their closure,” Demmer said. “There are a number of factors at play there.”

Ford said he would be working with DHFS on amendments addressing outstanding concerns.

The bill advanced on partisan lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against.

Changing birth records

House Bill 9, introduced by Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, amends the Illinois Vital Records Act, aiming to allow an easier process for transgender, non-binary and intersex individuals to change their sex on their birth certificate.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz introduces House Bill 9 during a virtual House Human Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. The bill aims to make it easier for transgender, non-binary, and intersex individuals to change their birth records. Blueroomstream.com

The bill would remove a requirement that a transgender or intersex individual would need a signed statement from a healthcare professional, allowing them to initiate the change on their own.

“This aligns with the requirements for driver’s licenses in Illinois that do not require a doctor’s note,” Gong-Gershowitz said.

“Access to a birth certificate is the first step in securing important identity documents needed for many aspects of daily life,” Myles Brady Davis, press secretary and director of communication at Equality Illinois, told the committee.

“It can be hard to understand what it means to be trans, but we can all agree that trans people should be treated with dignity and respect, just like anyone else,” Brady Davis added.

Brady Davis described needing a letter from a healthcare professional as an “unnecessary barrier” that could exclude trans and non-binary individuals who have chosen to not undergo a medical transition.

The bill advanced on partisan lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. No opponents spoke against the bill in committee.

Access to benefits

House Bill 88, introduced by Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, aims to remove prior felony drug convictions as a barrier to receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits in Illinois.

Flowers said the change would be similar to a measure passed by the General Assembly in 2014 to remove felony drug convictions as a barrier to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. 

“This bill stops the continuing punishment of people who have served their time,” Flowers said. “This ban is an antiquated policy that subjects a subset of people to life sentencing.”

Niya Kelly, legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said barring individuals from receiving benefits under TANF was a “racist” policy stemming from the war on drugs, which disproportionately targeted low-income communities of color.

“We want to follow the lead of other states and repeal this drug felony ban that we have on folks who are coming back into their community, getting their lives back in order, raising their children and attempting to be able to meet all of their basic needs,” Kelly said.

The bill advanced on partisan lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. No opponents spoke against the bill in committee. 

Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

Recent Content