Sheriff Dart, Legislators, and Advocates Applaud Passage of Bill to Eliminate Mental Health Care Co-Pay for First Responders

May 24, 2024Press Release

COOK COUNTY, IL – Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart applauded the Illinois General Assembly’s passage of legislation that eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for first responders seeking mental health treatment.

“We rely on our first responders to be there for us when we need help, to protect public safety and health in our communities,” Sheriff Dart said. “We have an obligation to ensure their health and wellbeing, and I’m pleased that the General Assembly overwhelmingly approved this legislation.”

Once signed into law, the legislation will exempt first responders – including police officers, firefighters, emergency medics, and 911 telecommunicators – from cost sharing requirements related to mental health counseling such as insurance deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings in the Senate and in the House by Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, was approved without dissent in both chambers.

“As we continue to honor the bravery and dedication of our first responders, it is imperative that we also address their mental health needs with the same urgency and support,” Sen. Hastings said. “This initiative represents a significant step towards a healthier and more resilient community for our heroes.”

Costs can pose a daunting obstacle to individuals seeking mental health care. In a survey conducted by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 42% of respondents identified cost as a significant barrier to obtaining mental health services. The average price of psychotherapy is up to $200 per session, and insurance companies can pass along as much as 40% of the total amount to the insured.

But access to mental health care for first responders is critically important due to their exposure to violent and traumatic events. First responders are often at increased risk of developing mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and substance use disorders. The Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology reports suicide rates are 69% higher among police officers than the general population, while a Harvard Study has shown that first responders are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. Studies by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions and 75% of police officers have experienced a traumatic event.

“I am proud to be the chief sponsor of this important legislation that provides our first responders with mental health care without the burden of added insurance costs,” said Rep. Guerrero-Cuellar. “Our brave first responders deserve nothing but the best, and this bill ensures they can access critical healthcare without worrying about excessive costs.”

A broad coalition of public safety and mental health advocates supported the legislation, including NAMI Chicago, National Association of Social Workers – Illinois Chapter, Mental Health America of Illinois, Illinois Psychiatric Society, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent and Protective Association, Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, and AFSCME Council 31.

“It is crucial that first responders are able to address their mental health proactively and without the fear of stigma,” said Lily Rocha, Associate Vice President of Policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago. “This important legislation will remove cost as a barrier to care for the frontline workers who keep our communities safe.”