Senate Health Bill’s Opioid Aid Called Inadequate

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The Senate leadership’s efforts to salvage the Republican health care bill have focused on adding $45 billion for states to spend on opioid addiction treatment. Addiction specialists said it was drastically short of what would be needed to make up for the legislation’s deep cuts to Medicaid, which has provided treatment for hundreds of thousands of people caught up in a national epidemic of opioid abuse, the New York Times reports. The new money would most likely flow to states in the form of grants over 10 years. With hundreds of people dying every week from overdoses of heroin, fentanyl and opioid painkillers, some specialists say a fixed amount of grant money is inadequate compared with the open-ended funding stream that Medicaid provides to treat all who qualify for the coverage.

“When it comes to other illnesses like breast cancer or heart disease, we’d never rely solely on grants for treatment — because we know that grants are not substitutes for health coverage,” said Linda Rosenberg of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents treatment providers. “Addiction is no different.” The Affordable Care Act vastly expanded access to addiction treatment by designating those services as “essential benefits.” That means they had to be covered through an expansion of Medicaid to far more low-income adults and to the marketplaces set up under the law for people to buy private plans. Both the House and Senate health bills would cap federal Medicaid spending, resulting in the loss of coverage for millions of people, says the Congressional Budget Office. The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health reports 1.35 million low-income Americans in 2015 with an opioid use disorder. Only 25 percent of those people get treated in a year.

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