POLITICS
02/14/2017 06:01 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2017

Obamacare Repeal Could Cripple Efforts To Combat The Opioid Epidemic

A new study shows huge numbers of Americans could lose the help they need.

WASHINGTON ― Repealing the Affordable Care Act would deal a major blow to efforts to fight addiction in one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, according to a new study from Harvard Medical School and New York University.

Across the country, some four million Americans with addictions or mental health disorders could lose their health insurance, greatly diminishing access to life-saving treatments, the researchers found. In Kentucky, the effects of ACA repeal would be especially devastating.

The end of Obamacare could cost Kentucky more than 44 percent of its funding for medication-assisted treatment using buprenorphine to help those with opioid addiction, according to the study. 

Medication-assisted treatment combines addiction counseling with the use of medications such as methadone or buprenorphine (commonly sold as Suboxone). By consensus of the medical community, it is the standard of care for people with opioid use disorder. But Kentucky and other states have only recently started expanding access to such treatment with the help of federal funds.

According to the study, more than 40,000 Kentucky residents who gained Medicaid coverage under the ACA have a mental illness and/or are being treated for a substance use disorder. 

The researchers looked at several states struggling with the opioid crisis, including Kentucky and New York, in their latest study. They’ve previously found similar results for other states like West Virginia and Ohio, where the epidemic is also tearing at too many families and communities.

Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not address how the loss of the ACA would impact his state and its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in an op-ed published last month. He argued that the health care law has actually done more harm than good.

“Obamacare isn’t truly solving problems or making our country healthier — it’s a box-checking regime devoid of true compassion or empathy, a green-eyeshade exercise that misses something important: the lives of real people,” McConnell wrote.

Perhaps McConnell hasn’t consulted enough state health officials out there on addiction’s front lines. According to the new analysis, New York could face a 37 percent cut in funds paying for medication-assisted treatment, while Oregon could be looking at a 24 percent cut. In Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, ACA repeal could mean an 18 percent slash to such life-saving treatment. During Pence’s time as governor, Indiana’s HIV rate spiked due to the opioid epidemic.

Pence still declared in early January that repealing Obamacare would be a top priority for the Trump administration.

“The first order of business is to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Pence said. “The American people voted decisively for a better future for health care in this country and we are determined to give them that.”

He added that he didn’t want to cause any hardship to families that receive insurance through the ACA.

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