One of the most significant impacts of the The American Health Care Act – the GOP’s long-promised effort to do away with Obamacare – would be its effect on drug treatment centers and drug addicts. If the Senate passes the AHCA, drug treatment centers and substance abuse programs across the country would see widespread budget cuts.
Responsibility for such an outcome will – at least in part – rest with Rep. Erik Paulsen, a longtime supporter of the bill.
Under Obamacare, drug abuse treatment became more widely available. According to one report, the percentage of people without insurance who suffered from addiction or mental health issues dropped by about a quarter between 2011 and 2014. Progress toward getting more addicts into treatment centers was slow but steady.
The Republicans’ rollback of Obamacare puts those gains at risk. In an op-ed published on The Hill last month, Tom McLellan and Paul Samuels – former Deputy Director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy and the President and Director of the Legal Action Center, respectively – wrote, “Should the [House version of the AHCA] become law, it would cripple the national response to the opioid epidemic by ending the Medicaid expansion, cutting $880 billion in federal Medicaid funds, and radically changing the structure of the program through federal funding caps. The impact would be widespread and devastating.”
The AHCA underwent few significant changes after passing to the Senate for revision. According to Richard Frank, a Harvard health economist, it would cost $183 billion over 10 years to effectively fight America’s opioid epidemic and the secondary health impacts (like HIV and hepatitis C) that it entails. But the Senate bill pledges just $2 billion for one year, 2018, to support mental health and substance abuse treatment. Frank called the funding pledge “a joke.”
Not only would the AHCA cut Medicaid and allocate only the most paltry of sums to drug abuse treatment, it would also eliminate the “essential health benefits” that Obamacare uses to define what qualifies as health insurance. Substance abuse treatment was one of these essential health benefits. But both the House and Senate versions of the bill allow states to waive essential health benefits.
Rep. Erik Paulsen was one of the Republicans who voted in favor of the AHCA. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he’s argued forcefully that the bill is “the latest step in reforming our health care system to be more patient-centered.”
Paulsen’s vote is even more shameful, though, because he acknowledges the damage drugs are doing in our community and across the nation. At a Joint Economic Committee hearing last month, he pointed out that even Prince, the pop star and Minnesota native, died of a drug overdose last year. “This is a problem that affects many different types of people: old and young, rich and poor, your neighbor down the street as well as an international celebrity,” Paulsen said. “This is certainly a problem … that is everywhere.”
Paulsen is right. Drug abuse and overdose deaths (especially those linked to opiates) have been climbing rapidly for years. Between 2002 and 2015, the number of drug overdose deaths doubled. From 2007 to 2011, the number of Americans addicted to heroin nearly doubled, and from 2009 to 2014, the number of heroin-related deaths tripled. Last year, more Americans died of drug overdoses than were killed during the Vietnam War.
Why, then, is Paulsen backing a bill that will do nothing to help the problem and, by all accounts, will reverse the modest gains that have been made since Obamacare was implemented?
Like his Republican colleagues, Paulsen has spent eight years promising to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Now that he actually has the chance to do so, he doesn’t know how to step back from the cliff.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill sometime after the Independence Day holiday break.
Featured image via YouTube.