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Latest GOP-Crafted Health Care Bill Will Worsen Opioid Crisis, Advocates Say

As a GOP-crafted bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act heads toward a vote in the U.S. Senate, those who are fighting the opioid epidemic are urging lawmakers to reject the proposal. Providers who offer substance use disorder treatment  say the Graham-Cassidy bill will reduce access to care in the midst of the opioid crisis.

One provision of Graham-Cassidy would convert Medicaid to a block-grant program, in which states receive a fixed amount of federal money instead of open-ended federal support.  

That restriction, says Bruce Campbell, a board member of the Bangor Area Recovery Network, will make the Medicaid program less flexible, and make it more difficult to meet emerging needs associated with  the opioid epidemic that's causing the majority of overdose deaths in Maine.

"You're going to have to decide what are you going to fund within that block grant for health care, because that's all you're going to have," Cambell says. "Or you're going to have to raise additional money through the state level with property taxes or state taxes to make up the difference when costs exceed how much is available through the block grant."

And Malory Shaugnessy, of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, says the Graham-Cassidy bill would also eliminate protections that ensure that consumers who purchase insurance through the individual or small group market have coverage for substance use disorder treatment. 

"The state could go any which way it wants," Shaugnessy says, "and there's no guarantees of coverage for pre-existing [conditions], and there's no guarantees that they will continue coverage in parity in any way for behavioral health."

Shaugnessy says, currently, there's not enough access to treatment, and that the bill would make the problem worse.