By Monique Garcia and Kim Geiger

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday sought to rewrite a wide-ranging measure aimed at curbing heroin use, eliminating a requirement that the state's Medicaid health care program for the poor pay for medication and therapy programs to treat addiction.

The Republican governor said the state can't afford the extra cost while "facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties." Supporters of the original legislation argued the governor's change creates an unfair system in which those who can afford insurance get help for their addiction while low-income patients end up in an emergency room or a courtroom.

"This is a critical component of this legislation; if the only people you affect are people that have insurance, then you haven't done that much. There is a whole swath of people out there who need health care from the state who have drug addictions," said sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. "The governor is taking the position that we can't afford to save these lives."

Lang said it was too early to say if he will ask lawmakers to override Rauner's changes. Initial estimates pegged the cost of the legislation at $25 million a year, though some critics argued that figure was low.

The measure also would require police departments and firehouses to stock opioid antidotes that could be used to counteract heroin overdoses, and attempts to strengthen the state Department of Human Services' prescription monitoring program to help doctors and pharmacies detect "doctor shoppers," a practice in which drug addicts obtain various prescriptions from several doctors.

Rauner said in his amendatory veto message to lawmakers that he supported those efforts "and applaud the multifaceted approach to combating this epidemic in Illinois," but could not back the bill if it continued to "impose a very costly mandate" on the Medicaid program.

Lang contended that Rauner is looking at one side of the ledger and not taking into account savings the state would reap from other provisions that would divert addicts from hospitals and the criminal justice system in favor of drug education programs and specialized drug courts.

Heroin overdose deaths have been on the rise statewide since 2011, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. Last year, 633 heroin overdose deaths occurred in Illinois, up from 583 in 2013. In Cook County, heroin overdose deaths remained relatively stagnant last year, down eight to 283.

The legislation was watered down following pushback from pharmacies opposed to a provision that would require them to serve as take-back sites for old and unused medications. As approved, the measure would require state agencies to distribute information about how to properly dispose of medication and allow individual counties to establish take-back programs if they wish.

Also stripped from the bill was a requirement that doctors take drug addiction classes to better recognize addicts and get them help.

  • Rauner approved several other measures Monday, including:
  • A bill backed by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild to allow breweries to make up to 120,000 barrels of beer per year, four times the current 30,000 limit.
  • A measure that provides immunity from an illegal drinking charge to underage drinkers who bring an intoxicated friend to a hospital for medical help.
  • Legislation to allow the state to immediately pay fatally injured burn victims the Social Security disability payments that they would ordinarily receive after a five-month waiting period. The bill applies to burn victims whose injuries were not their fault and who have been told that they have 18 months or less to live. The measure is named for George Bailey, a Downstate man whose family struggled to care for him after he suffered fatal burns and had no income to help cover his care and living expenses.
  • "This is an attempt to find and provide some relief for those five months," said sponsoring Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea. "When the Social Security disability is reimbursed, it pays back to the fund."
  • A measure that takes away the ability of hospitals, ambulance providers, laboratories and pharmacies to directly bill victims of sexual assault for the outpatient care they receive. Providers will be required to bill a victim's insurer or public health care system and accept what is received as payment in full.

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