Senate health care bill would worsen opioid crisis, lawmakers say


By JUSTIN WIER

jwier@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Some local politicians fear the health care bill unveiled in the Senate on Thursday will make it more difficult for Ohio to fight the growing opioid crisis.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, specifically targeted changes in the Medicaid program.

“We cannot allow Washington to rip the rug out from under Ohio communities,” Brown said in a news release. “Instead of raising prices on people over 50 and working families, we should be working together to lower costs, fight the opioid epidemic and make health care work better for everyone.”

Brown cited a Harvard study that found more than 150,000 Ohioans with addiction or mental health disorders received health care through the Medicaid expansion.

The Senate bill would not allow states to join the expansion after 2020.

The bill also changes how Medicaid is funded. States would receive block grants or be subject to a “per capita cap” that places limits on spending per enrollee. There is now no limit on spending per enrollee.

The House bill included a similar provision the Congressional Budget Office said would substantially decrease the federal funding states receive.

The spending caps in the Senate’s bill grow at a slower rate than those in the House’s version, which would result in even lower levels of funding in the future.

Gov. John Kasich has committed $1 billion annually to fight the opioid crisis in the state, with two thirds of that coming from Medicaid funding.

He released a statement that said he had “deep concerns” about the bill and whether there were “the resources needed to help our must vulnerable, including those who are dealing with drug addiction, mental illness and chronic health problems and have nowhere else to turn.”

Tracy Plouck, director of Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services, told The Vindicator in May that the state was concerned about legislation that would endanger Medicaid expansion.

“We absolutely want to maintain that,” she said. “That is a huge priority for us.”

The bill does include $2 billion to support substance-abuse disorder treatment and recovery support services nationwide in fiscal year 2018.

Ohio alone plans to spend $1 billion.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, laid into the bill, calling it a “betrayal” that would “unleash destruction.”

“With drug overdoses becoming the leading cause of death around the country, Republicans are touting a bill that will slash Medicaid, decrease access to substance-abuse treatment and make the opioid crisis worse,” Ryan said in a news release.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, said he continues to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies, “especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic.”

Earlier this week, he said any replacement would “have to do something to address this opioid crisis that is gripping our country,” according to The New York Times. He said Congress must do more to fight the opioid crisis in an editorial published Thursday in the Dayton Daily News.

Portman has not yet decided whether he will support the bill.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, said the congressman had not read the Senate bill when he spoke to The Vindicator, but Johnson looks forward to the Senate’s passing the bill and putting it on the president’s desk so Republicans can keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Another point of contention is the manner in which the bill was conceived. The bill was negotiated behind closed doors and is scheduled to receive a vote next Thursday, just a week after the release of the text.

Kasich encouraged senators to reach across the aisle and work toward a bipartisan solution.

“The many problems facing our health care system will never be solved with a one-party approach that’s developed behind closed doors without public discussion and input,” Kasich’s statement read.

Brown said Republicans know they are pushing an unpopular bill.

“[Senate Republicans] know that the more sunshine is let in the room, the less people are going to like this bill,” Brown said in a Facebook town hall.

Ryan also criticized the manner in which the bill was drafted.

“Republicans should be ashamed ... for the cravenly secretive and undemocratic way they went about writing it,” he said in the news release.

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