Gov. J.B. Pritzker on May 18 signed two bills designed to provide better access to healthcare for rural Illinoisans.
SB3017 amends the Loan Repayment Assistance for Physicians Act to address the shortage of healthcare providers, particularly for obstetrical services, in rural committees. SB1435 amends hospital licensing procedures to clear the way for health center mergers and increased healthcare coordination in rural districts.
“From our telehealth expansions to our Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives, we’re shaping Illinois into a leader in tackling systemic inequities in our rural healthcare systems,” said Pritzker. “I want to thank Senator Turner and Representatives Yednock and Rezin for bringing us closer to a world where all Illinoisans have the easy and affordable healthcare access they deserve.”
The amended Loan Repayment Assistance Act expands the definition of a “designated shortage area” to include any Medicaid-accepting health provider and expands the eligibility for loan repayment to more physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and physicians’ assistants. These expansions are targeted towards attracting more qualified health care professionals to work in rural areas lacking adequate access to care.
SB1425 allows any hospital in a county of fewer than 125,000 inhabitants to apply to the Illinois Department of Public Health to conduct operations from multiple locations within contiguous counties under one license.
As a result of the bill, St. Margaret’s Health- Spring Valley will have a path to merge with St. Margaret’s Health- Peru. This will increase healthcare coordination across rural counties and improve quality of care for patients in these systems.
According to a University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center study, rural populations are typically older and have more health needs than those living in urban areas despite facing transportation and coverage shortages. These disparities are particularly acute for patients using Medicare.
Pritzker signed legislation in 2021 that established the Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives program, which encourages healthcare providers to partner together to develop innovative solutions for meeting healthcare needs in their communities and closing gaps that exist in healthcare delivery across the state. In July, the administration announced roughly $94 million in funding to eight innovative collaborations.