Transitions Recovery Program – Medicaid Plays Key Role In Fight Against Opioids and Heroin Epidemic

Under the newly proposed Republican healthcare plan, there is an estimated 24 million Americans who could potentially lose coverage, which includes over a million who, under the Affordable Care Act, have secured treatments for substance use disorders, also known as SUD’s. It is no secret that opioid and heroin addiction is one of the biggest problems in America as drug overdose remains the leading cause of accidental deaths. Opioid addiction, of course, takes the lead on overdose death numbers. If over a million Americans lose the ability to receive treatments for substance use, it would surely be a giant step backwards in the fight against opioid addiction.

If the Medicaid expansion gets passed and the ACA is repealed, more people will go untreated in the fight against opioid and heroin addictions. With the rising costs of insurance and the reality that people will not be able to pay their healthcare bills, the number of addictions will continue to increase. This will also cause hospitals and taxpayers to continue to dump billions of dollars in bills for uncompensated care.

It is estimated that over 2 million people struggled with prescription pain reliever SUDs in 2015, and over a quarter of those people had heroin-related SUDs. While the epidemic is much worse in some states than others, the death rate on drug overdose is as high as 41.5 deaths per 100,000 population in West Virginia alone. This results in American communities paying for increased health care expenditures, incarceration, premature deaths, and loss of overall economic productivity. In total, heroin and opioid addiction costs American taxpayers around 80 billion dollars a year. This is up more than 590 percent from 2001.

The biggest chance America has in fighting this disease is access to behavioral health care services and the one thing that has helped addicts receive these services is Medicaid. Because of the Medicaid expansion introduced by the ACA, 1.3 million Americans receive quality, affordable treatment to their addiction. Medicaid also helps to decrease the unmet need for SUD treatment by 18 percent for low-income adults, and pays for 21 percent of all SUD treatment spending. What is also important is that Medicaid covers about a quarter of the treatments for opioid and heroin addictions. Medicaid save the lives of addicts every day and ultimately keeps the cost down for hospitals and taxpayers.

Under the Medicaid expansions the uninsured rate for hospitalizations for substance use fell to 5 percent by mid-2015. Just before the ACA coverage came into effect, these rates were around 20 percent at the end of 2013. That is a nearly 25 percent difference made possible by the Medicaid expansion. Treatment for those incarcerated was also cheaper and the average cost for a year of methadone maintenance was only $4,700 per patient as opposed to $24,000 for a year. These numbers are staggering and put into perspective the type of damage a repeal of the ACA would do.

Under the Republican’s proposed health care plan, the guarantee for state Medicaid programs would be completely removed and state’s would potentially not be able to provide quality, affordable SUD treatments. The Medicaid expansion would ultimately be repealed as well and 2.8 million Americans that depend on SUD treatments would lose some or all of their insurance coverage. Invoking this new plan is the last thing America needs in order to fight the war against heroin and opioid addictions. Americans need help with treatments and coverage, and in order to save their lives, we need to give them that help and a chance to fight this terrible disease.