America’s Latest Addiction Threatens To Derail Obamacare Repeal

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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The opioid crises sweeping through American communities is becoming a thorn in the side of congressional Republicans trying to overhaul former President Barack Obama’s landmark health care legislation.

Obamacare labels mental and behavioral health services as “essential health benefits (ESBs),” which represent a category of 10 services that health insurance plans must cover under the legislation. A handful of ESB’s have allowed millions of Americans who are actively seeking substance-abuse treatment to gain coverage on the exchanges, which includes portions of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A few key Republican senators are wavering in their support for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the House passed in early May. The House bill includes an aggressive roll back of federal funds granted to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion program and would allow for some insurance companies to charge higher premiums to consumers with drug addictions. (RELATED: Divide Among GOP In Congress Isn’t Going Anywhere)

Sixteen out of the 20 Republican House members that voted against the AHCA are in states that saw drastic increases in the number of opioid-related deaths over the past decade.

The Senate is currently finalizing its own version of Obamacare repeal in the coming week and will send it to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring. The same hesitation that ultimately stopped the group of Republican House members from supporting the legislation is now presenting itself in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has expressed concern that rolling back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion program without offering consumers another affordable option would place an undue burden on those seeking substance-abuse treatments.

“So many people on Medicaid and expanded Medicaid rely on that funding for their treatment for substance abuse,” Portman told reporters. “This is clearly an issue where you don’t want to make matters worse by reducing access to treatment.”

Ohio has become the poster child for the opioid epidemic, with double-digit increases in opioid-related overdoses in 2014 and 2015. Deaths from opioid use in the U.S. have skyrocketed from around 8,000 in 1999 to over 30,000 in 2015, the Center for Disease Control reports.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Dean Heller of Nevada argue that it would be better to gradually wind down the funding of Medicaid expansion, allowing consumers more time to adjust accordingly. (RELATED: GOP Senators Can’t Agree On Medicaid Reform)

Then there are the fiscal policy hawks in the Senate, like GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who want an aggressive, immediate cut to Medicaid funding.

“Medicaid is growing at an unsustainable pace,” Toomey told reporters. “If we’re going to overhaul this program, which we need to by virtue of Obamacare, we can at least put it on a sustainable path.”

The senators appear to be aggressively lobbying for their agendas, making it difficult for the consensus driven body to reach an agreement.

Deaths from opioid use in the U.S. have skyrocketed from around 8,000 in 1999 to over 30,000 in 2015, the Center for Disease Control reports.

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