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U.S. Rep. Underwood introduces legislation to expand access to primary & behavioral health care

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, is looking to get a piece of legislation passed to expand access to primary and behavioral health care services.

During a press conference held Saturday at TriCity Family Services in Geneva, the legislative details were rolled out.

“Making sure that people in northern Illinois can count on seeing their primary care or mental health provider is something that everybody deserves,” Underwood said. “As out-of-pocket costs rise for more and more Americans, the Primary and Behavioral Health Care Access Act will ensure cost is not a barrier to those primary care or mental health services families need in order to stay healthy.”

Under the Primary and Behavioral Health Care Access Act, those with private insurance plans would be granted three annual primary care visits and three annual outpatient behavioral health care visits without charging a copayment, coinsurance or deductible-related fee.

Underwood, whose 2018 campaign for elected office gained traction in part for striving to address issues in health care, believes the legislation would fill a void.

“I hear countless stories in my own conversations with Illinoisans across our community when I am here at home,” she said. “High health care costs don’t just affect the uninsured. Many Americans with private health insurance, (which makes for) good insurance, aren’t able to afford the care that they need because of high deductibles, copayments and coinsurance costs.”

Mental illness affects one in five of the nation’s adult population, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. What’s more is, it provides a need for one of the largest categories of out-of-pocket spending for people with health coverage from a large employer,

according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Laura Poss, executive director of TriCity Family Services, said she stands by the legislation that Underwood is introducing.

“What thrills me about what the Congresswoman is doing is that even though it would mean that we would have more clients, we would be thrilled to have people be able to come in and either get a diagnosis for the first time or be able to access services for a pre-existing diagnosis,” she said. “Because if they don’t come in and it’s cost prohibitive, they will be out there without their medication and without their therapy.”

Poss said even though Underwood’s legislation is narrowly defined, preventive care is key to keeping health care costs down.

“If we have to have somebody go without therapy and medication, they’re going to end up in the emergency rooms or they’re going to end up hospitalized, but if they come here, they’re treated by our professionals,” she said. “We can get them into regular therapy and regular treatment that will cut down the cost of health care.”

Underwood turned to recognize the personal success story of Aurora resident Emily Fagan, who shared with her the journey she’s had living with bipolar II disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Fagan currently works as a professional musician and is teaching at Northwestern University and Northern Illinois University.

“If you took me back to high school and you asked people to describe me back then, you would get a totally different Emily,” she said. “You would descriptive words such as lonely, isolated, never wants to go anywhere, you never know what you’re going to get with her, totally drama queen, always sad.”

Fagan equated her mental health struggles to living with diabetes, saying that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t feel well. She said she is fortunate she is able to live a happy life thanks to her family, the community and the behavioral health care services that were made available to her.

“If I didn’t have access to the things that I had access to, I would be who knows where—probably not alive right now,” Fagan said.

Not everyone is fortunate to have access to primary and behavioral health care services. That’s where Underwood’s legislation aims to fill the void.

The Primary and Behavioral Health Care Access Act has received endorsements from dozens of organizations. They include March of Dimes, American Academy of Family Physicians, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association.

Underwood said she is hopeful the legislation will receive the necessary backing to be passed.

“I’m hoping that it gets prompt consideration in the Congress and gets swiftly moved through the whole process, so that we can begin to help some families across our community and across this country,” she said.