SEP 28, 2023
Lawmakers seek answers on long delays for professional licenses, but find few
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation Secretary Mario Treto speaks to the House Health Care Licenses Committee on Wednesday. [Blue Room Stream]
More than a million people need licenses from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), and thousands of them wait months to hear back from the state.
The House Health Care Licenses Committee held a hearing Wednesday with department leadership and representatives of professional associations with members that require state licenses to work, but the hearing provided few answers to resolving what the department’s head characterized as a “crisis” anytime soon.
“These delays cannot continue,” committee chair Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) said. “The most obvious consequences to these delays can be seen in the applications and the applicants who are unable to work, literally, and those who lost jobs or moved out of state because of licensing delays.”
Several people from licensed professionals' organizations told the committee licensing application delays are the worst they’ve ever been.
Lawmakers sought answers from IDFPR Secretary Mario Treto over why delays are increasing and what the department can do about it.
But Treto came to lawmakers with bad news. He said IDFPR has been working with various state agencies to buy new software through a joint contract with other agencies. But on Monday, the plan fell through, sending IDFPR back to the drawing board.
“As we drill down into the very specific needs that have to be met and how we may go about the process to obtain them, we have reached a point where we don’t think the joint purchase master contract will work,” Treto said.
Treto declined to go into further specifics, including about their next approach, but the announcement is a major setback for the department as the state’s procurement process is often lengthy, sometimes taking years. Treto told lawmakers IDFPR has seen demand for new licenses and renewals increase by 15 percent since 2019 and processed more than 103,800 last year.
“The central cause of this crisis is our antiquated license processing system that is woefully ill-equipped to manage the demands of the 21st century,” Treto said. “That’s because the system itself is from the last century. It is literally from the 1990s.”
“The limitations on the system mean that as more professions are added to our purview or when new modifications are made to the requirements for professions licensure, we as an agency are unable to incorporate them into the online application,” Treto said. “Consequentially, we are required to use paper applications, which take longer to review and process.”
All types of licenses see delays, but some are better than others, people from licensed professionals' organizations said. Susan Swart from the American Nurses Association of Illinois said renewing licenses are typically easier for nurses. David Porter from the Illinois State Medical Society said physicians who can renew online find it easy to do, so long as the application is right.
But for counselors and social workers, applications still need to be done on paper.
“We receive numerous complaints about delays from social workers daily…These applicants are calling us because they’re about to lose their job or they’re unable to get a job due to the fact that their licensure status is unknown or incomplete,” said Kyle Hillman from the National Association of Social Workers.
Rep. Bill Hauter (R-Morton) suggested IDFPR at least send receipts to people letting them know their application was received. Treto shot that idea down and said the antiquated computer system won’t allow that. Hauter also questioned why licenses were processed so quickly during the pandemic, but Treto, who took over as secretary in 2021, said that was because the department devoted all its resources toward processing healthcare licenses to meet the urgent demand for healthcare workers. Treto said IDFPR now has to give other types of licenses the same priority.
“We’re talking about highly compensated jobs and the tax dollars that they bring, and these people are not coming to Illinois just because of the licensing delay,” Hauter said.
Hauter and Rep. Paul Jacobs (R-Pomona) both hold licenses issued by IDFPR. Hauter is an anesthesiologist in Peoria and Jacobs is an eye doctor in Southern Illinois. Jacobs wondered how long it will take for his licenses to get renewed next year.
“I think that the legislators have to get involved in this,” Jacobs said. “This is an emergency. I can’t get people to move to this state down here in the south. Physicians don’t want to come here and there’s a lot of reasons why, but if they can’t get a license, that’s a huge reason why.”
Morgan said he wants Treto to give the committee monthly updates about the department’s progress toward resolving the delays. Morgan added there are no more immediate committee hearings planned on IDFPR’s delays, but lawmakers will have internal discussions about next steps.
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