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"Graham-Cassidy" Provides Zero Funding to Address the "Opioid Crisis"

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

One of the few positive provisions of the summer’s Senate “health care” bills was the inclusion of funding to states to “support substance use disorder treatment and recovery support services.”  With more than 30,000 people dying from heroin and painkiller overdoses in the United States every year, sufficient funding to address and effectively treat this issue is crucial.  Yet the latest Republican version of the “health care” bill has omitted this funding entirely.

The original Better Care Reconciliation Act included a $2B fund to distribute grants to states for fighting the “opioid crisis” and other substance use disorder issues; the “Cruz amendment” version significantly increased that amount to nearly $45B over nine years.  While even that amount would likely not have been sufficient to cover needs, the increase was hailed as a key provision aimed specifically at some Republican Senators still wavering in their support.  Yet the latest iteration – “Graham-Cassidy” – includes absolutely no such funding.  This glaring omission has received little attention, but it contributes to the bill’s overall potential to actually harm public health.  The bill would also make alarming cuts to Medicaid (which is one of the top insurers for substance use disorder services) and would also allow states to waive the current requirements that insurance companies not only cover substance use disorder treatment but also that they cover it without charging people higher premiums.  One analysis estimates that a person with "drug dependence" could face a premium surcharge of $20,000 per year.  

Without any funding added to the bill to offset those potentially devastating losses, treatment for substance use disorder will become either financially or practically impossible for the millions of people who may need it.  This lack of adequate, evidence-based, available treatment already constitutes a public health crisis - Congress may be poised to make it even worse.