Opioid Epidemic Looms in the US: GOP’s Proposed Cuts to Medicaid Threaten Treatment for Opioid Addiction

The fight to combat the opioid crisis is a key issue that commands virtually unanimous support on Capitol Hill. Why? Communities in various states are struggling to control the opioid epidemic that has created havoc in the US and affected every one irrespective of their age, race, and socioeconomic status. In this context, Medicaid, which helps low-income and disabled people, is the single largest payer for addiction treatment.

The Affordable Care Act – Hope for the poor

Those who are addicted to opiates need suitable treatment which is typically a combination of medication and therapy. Unfortunately, this treatment is beyond the reach of most poor people. The government has developed several programs to subsidize these treatments. The most beneficial among them has been the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Michael Botticelli, former Director, National Drug Control Policy, reports that the Affordable Care Act ensured substance use disorder treatment was one of the 10 important benefits which needed to be covered by the Medicaid and other health insurance market plans.

Republicans skeptical about Obamacare

Republicans from the Senate and the House are mulling significant reductions in Medicaid. But such measures could interfere with the addiction treatment currently being received by numerous people through the government-supported health insurance scheme.

While speaking with the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations, Dr. Terry Horton confessed that his primary fear is that these measures would prevent him from providing quality treatment to the addicts.

Republican initiatives to amend or repeal Obamacare while cutting down on Medicaid funding and passing the American Health Care Act would obstruct the current measures to control the opioid crisis.

It is important to remember that Donald Trump was one the most prominent supporters for combating the opioid epidemic. Throughout his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump had often criticized the Obama government for dealing with the epidemic in an ineffective way. He was also reported saying that it is unfortunate that a large section of the American population is grappling with fatal addiction. It would be cruel to aggravate their pain with impractical government policies which pose even more challenges before them while they’re trying to get support.

According to Dr. Frank, the inability to pay for treatment combined with a lack of preparedness among people is the key reason for such a sad scenario.

The American Health Care Act, initially appreciated by President Trump, currently calls for $800 billion Medicaid cuts.

Ben Allan from NPR says that the blocking of federal Medicaid would force states to manipulate the financial gap, either by offering limited care or by denying coverage to some people.

States dependent on federal funds

States like Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and the state pays around 10 percent of the bills for individuals who benefited due to the expansion; government funds account for the remaining 90 percent.

Rachel Roubein reports that in states like Ohio, Alaska, and West Virginia, Medicaid covers approximately 34 to 50 percent of medication-based treatment for addiction disorders. Only with ample funding will the states be able to treat the addicts properly and ensure they recover completely.

Imagine the no-coverage scenario in rural areas- these areas will be severely affected, as Medicare is expensive and quite difficult to access in such remote places.

Government’s attitudes towards programs such as Medicaid need major transformation if the country has to control this terrible epidemic. In the absence of proper drug treatment medications, there is a high risk of patients going back to using opioids such as heroin so that they don’t feel sick. It seems that cutting Medicaid funds would intensify the problem and spell doom for addicts.

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