By JESS MANCINI
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A Republican-led elimination of Medicaid expansion funding would be disastrous in fighting the opioid epidemic, two Democratic U.S. senators said on Tuesday.
Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania harmonized on a familiar theme during a telephone press conference that included police chiefs from towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky speaking on the impact of the opioid epidemic and the loss of federal funds for treatment for low-income addicts.
The conference highlighted the release of a report by Manchin, “The House Healthcare Plan: What It Means for West Virginia’s Opioid Fight.”
Manchin and Casey said Democrats, and some Republicans, in the House and Senate have been left out of the talks on legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare by its opponents. Senators have been meeting in secret, Manchin said.
“Back room with no transparency,” Manchin said.
House Republicans in May passed a bill that would phase out the Medicaid expansion to additional low-income people in 2020. The legislation would result in 23 million people losing insurance coverage over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Senate Republican version will be similar, Manchin said.
The Medicaid expansion pays for much of the treatment for qualifying addicts.
“This is a critical time for the opioid epidemic and a critical time for Medicaid because of the connection between the two,” Casey said.
A problem is attitude, according to Manchin. Addiction is an illness, but many people don’t see it that way, he said.
“We still have people in denial,” Manchin said.
Addicts are committing crimes to finance their addiction, Police Chief Ken Strish of Berwick, Pa., said.
“Drug-related crime has simply become a constant,” Strish said.
Treatment is a viable option, Police Chief Mike Ward of Alexandria, Ky., said.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Ward said.
The problem will worsen by eliminating the funding for treatment and treatment centers, Police Chief Matt Vanyo of Olmstead, Ohio, said.
Manchin’s report addresses how the health care plan passed by the House will devastate West Virginia. Casey issued a similar report on Tuesday.
“The House health care plan would retreat from the fight against opioid addiction at the height of the epidemic,” the Manchin report said. “Their bill would make it harder to get much needed treatment by effectively ending the expansion of Medicaid, cutting Medicaid by $834 billion over 10 years, cutting the premium tax credits that help make coverage affordable and allowing states to waive treatment coverage requirements and pre-existing condition protections for those with substance use disorders.”
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