(This is one in a series of stories about the opioid epidemic.)
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, met Tuesday with other members of the House’s Heroin Task Force to unveil the group’s goals for the legislative term.
In a teleconference, the group spoke about eight bills to address the opioid and heroin epidemic, which claimed the lives of 2,200 Illinoisans in 2016, according to preliminary data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
However, the group all but avoided discussing the massive changes in the Republican health-care plan that would remove much of the funding for addiction treatment if passed.
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The eight bills included:
▪ “Jessie’s Law,” which would require hospital records to show information about patients’ histories of opioid addiction if patients previously gave that information to medical providers.
▪ The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies Act, or CRIB Act, would give states the ability to provide treatment for children younger than 1 year old for neonatal abstinence syndrome, a problem that stems from drug exposure in the womb.
▪ The Synthetic Drug Awareness Act would require the Surgeon General to make a report on the the public health issues stemming from synthetic drugs, which are made in such a way to avoid being classified as a controlled substance.
▪ An interdiction bill would give the U.S. Customs and Border Protection $15 million to intercept the deadly fentanyl opioid and other narcotics.
▪ Another bill would expand the types of family members that people can help pay for treatment using health savings accounts and other financial arrangements.
▪ The STOP OD bill would expand access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug.
▪ The VA Prescription Data Accountability Act would let the Veteran’s Administration share information with state prescription monitoring programs.
▪ A final bill, the Road to Recovery Act, which was introduced on June 20, had not been posted to the Congress website.
Most of the bills did not contain financial information, and, except for the savings-account bill, they did not address the issue of paying for addiction treatment services, which expanded dramatically under President Obama through the Medicaid program and which could be largely cut by the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, the Republican health-care plan passed by the House.
Davis defended the AHCA’s changes to Medicaid.
The AHCA does not pull the rug out from anyone on Medicaid. If they are on Medicaid now, they would remain covered until their situation improves and then the bill provides age and income-based tax credits to help them buy insurance up front.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville
“The AHCA does not pull the rug out from anyone on Medicaid,” he said in a statement provided to the BND. “If they are on Medicaid now, they would remain covered until their situation improves and then the bill provides age and income-based tax credits to help them buy insurance up front.”
Davis’ office noted that the AHCA included $15 billion for substance abuse. The AHCA states that there would be $15 billion in both 2018 and 2019 before payments would decline to $10 billion a year through 2026. The funds, however, would be for more than substance abuse and would have to cover high-risk insurance pools, maternity coverage, preventative services and other measures.
A defined amount of money is a stark contrast to the approach to substance abuse treatment funding in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. When that law passed, substance abuse was classified as an essential health benefit, which meant that there could be no yearly or lifetime caps on substance abuse treatment through Medicaid or insurance plans offered on the Marketplace.
In an early draft of the Republican Senate’s approach to health care, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, floated the idea of increasing substance abuse funding to $45 billion, but it was pared back, according to Andrew Kessler, a registered lobbyist with Slingshot Solutions, which works on behalf of behavioral health associations, including the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health.
But, even if $45 billion were in the final version of the Republican health care bill, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover the amount of needed substance abuse treatment, Kessler said.
McConnell’s version of the health-care bill contains $2 billion for substance use disorder treatment and recovery programs.
When the Heroin Task Force’s press conference finished after 30 minutes, the first question was about the potential cuts to Medicaid.
Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., expressed deep concern on behalf of her party about the cuts. Then Rep. Thomas MacArthur, R-N.J., spoke.
MacArthur recognized that addiction treatment is a large part of health care, but said the major political parties disagreed on how to approach the issue.
“We do what we can do together,” he said.