The Senate GOP Healthcare Bill Will Leave Millions Struggling with Addiction Without Coverage

Senate Republicans released the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 which is their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Many experts and organizations have already voiced serious concerns about the bill, chief among them are the devastating effects it would have on the addiction and opioid crisis currently crippling the US.

Vivek Murthy, the previous Surgeon General of the United States, declared that “America’s addiction crisis is the defining public health challenge of our time”, and he has good reason for saying so. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. According to the New York Times, the total number of deaths due to overdose in 2016 was approximately 60,000 — significantly more than car accidents and gun violence. This is a 19 percent jump from 2015, and the trend only looks to be continuing in the coming year.

The opioid crisis is the main driver behind these scary numbers. Approximately 75 percent of overdoses involved opiates, including prescribed medications as well as street drugs like Heroin which many turn to when they can no longer afford their prescriptions, or get cut off by their doctors. The Senate bill allocates $2 billion for 2018 to help with Opioid crisis, and nothing in the following years which is a massive reduction in the proposed $45 billion over 10 years that was proposed by the House bill. Neither of these proposals comes close to the $78 billion in treatment and collateral damage the Opioid crisis was estimated to cost the US in 2013 alone.

These are terrifying statistics that should prompt lawmakers to augment and expand coverage for addiction treatment, but the current proposal does exactly the opposite. Addiction is a treatable disease, and there are many treatment programs that have been made available by the changes made in coverage by Obamacare, but the bill not only cuts grants for addiction treatment and phases out extra funding for Medicaid, it also no longer requires addiction treatment to be a mandatory service of insurance plans.

Obamacare made big strides in coverage for addiction treatment by expanding Medicaid in 31 states. In those states under the expansion the proportion of people with substance abuse or mental health disorders who were hospitalized but not insured fell from 20 percent in 2013 to only 5 percent in 2015. Unfortunately, these improvements will be short-lived though under the current bill which sees to eliminate the Medicaid expansion completely by 2025.

Another recent benefit of Obamacare on the chopping block is the requirement for insurers to provide treatment for substance abuse as an “essential service”. The ACA declared coverage for substance abuse as an “essential health benefit” that insurers were mandated to provide. This same guarantee also applied to state Medicaid.

The proposed Senate bill will allow insurers to opt-out of providing this essential coverage, meaning that many Americans who currently have healthcare coverage will not be able to seek treatment if they suffer from substance abuse.

The cost of not providing treatment options for those suffering from addiction is much higher than one might think. Addiction usually coincides with other mental and health disorders such as anxiety, depression, HIV and hepatitis C. These conditions end up having huge impacts on our healthcare system, and not only in treatment costs, but by preventing those afflicted from becoming contributing members of society.

This is a crucial point in our country’s history and it is imperative for our future to attack the current crisis head on by increasing funding and treatment options, not by cutting them. “I hope our Senators ask themselves — what will happen to the Americans grappling with Opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage?” former President Barack Obama wrote in a Facebook post about the Senate bill. We can all only hope the same.