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Medicaid Coverage: A Key Weapon in the Opiate Treatment Arsenal

Thu, May 11, 2017  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by Kirstin Craciun

There has been a dizzying amount of activity at the federal level with huge implications for healthcare and Medicaid coverage in particular. Recently, the U.S. House passed its version of federal healthcare reform, the American Health Care Act. All Ohio Democrats voted against the bill and most Ohio Republicans – with the notable exception of Dave Joyce and Mike Turner – voted for the bill. The bill now heads to the Senate, which is expected to draft its own version of a healthcare reform bill.

Many Ohio providers and advocates are concerned (freaking out) about the impact federal healthcare reform would have on ensuring coverage for vulnerable patient populations. Of particular concern to many healthcare providers is how coverage changes will impact our ability to fight the opiate epidemic, particularly for those who currently have Medicaid coverage. The House bill that just passed phases out enhanced funding for the Medicaid expansion population (for new applicants) and converts Medicaid funding to a per capita cap system – with states having the option to receive a fixed-dollar block grant – amounting to an estimated $839 billion cut to the program over 10 years. (If you haven’t yet grabbed an antacid, now would be a good time to do that.)

By now we’ve probably all heard some of the most startling statistics about the opiate epidemic, but I’ll lay out a few numbers here just in case. Ohio ranks among the top five states with the worst drug overdose death rates. 

DRUG OVERDOSE DEATH RATE*: WORST 5 STATES

Medicaid Coverage: A Key Weapon in the Opiate Treatment Arsenal

Cuyahoga County had at least 61 opiate overdose deaths in February 2017 – the single highest monthly fatality rate. Talk to friends or family members who have lost a loved one to addiction, anyone currently in recovery, or people working with addicts, and it is clear the overwhelming suffering that is being experienced in our Ohio communities every day. And some experts are concerned the epidemic hasn’t even peaked yet.

Medicaid Coverage: A Key Weapon in the Opiate Treatment Arsenal

While Northeast Ohioans, like our counterparts throughout the state, have been mobilizing to fight this epidemic on many fronts, coverage to get people the care they need to address all of their health concerns is essential. Medicaid coverage plays a key role, and data backs this assertion up. Roughly one-third of the Medicaid expansion population has been clinically diagnosed with a substance abuse or dependence issue. In a report evaluating the impact of Ohio’s Medicaid expansion, results found that individuals with substance use disorders were more likely to report improvements in access to mental healthcare (44.7% versus 27.7%) and overall access to care (72.1% versus 60.9%) compared to enrollees without substance use disorders. Medicaid expansion has had an even greater impact on improving access to care for enrollees with an opioid use disorder. However, more needs to be done to ensure Medicaid expansion enrollees with a clinically diagnosed substance abuse or dependence issue receive substance abuse treatment. 

All eyes are on the U.S. Senate now to see how they will approach healthcare reform and Medicaid coverage.  As they consider how to craft a healthcare reform bill, they would be wise to heed this advice from Governor Kasich’s State of the State address: 

Addiction is an enemy that knows no distinction between incomes or neighborhoods or skin color. Addiction simply seeks to devour everyone and everything. Therefore, there can be no divisions among us as we face this common enemy. 

Let’s fight this common enemy by protecting Medicaid coverage for vulnerable populations and not dismantle what we know to be effective to get people the help they need.
Posted in Healthcare Reform
About the Author

Kirstin Craciun

I grew up in Canada where access to healthcare for all citizens is a core principle. I bring that thinking to the work I do as The Center for Health Affairs’ director of community outreach. I spend my days helping Northeast Ohio hospitals assess health needs in the community; develop collab...

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