Republican health care repeal would deepen Maine’s opioid crisis

Republican health care repeal would deepen Maine’s opioid crisis

The plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act advanced by House Republicans would be disastrous for Maine’s attempts to deal with the state’s ongoing opioid abuse crisis, according to national experts. The bill would eliminate behavioral health coverage for people on Medicaid, cutting off coverage for Maine residents with mental illness and substance use disorders, including opioids, and would threaten 38 percent of Maine’s funds needed to fight the opioid epidemic.

“The Republican health proposal is a devastating prospect for the millions of people suffering from mental health or substance use disorders,” said Dr. Richard Frank, health economics professor at Harvard Medical School, in a call with reporters on Tuesday. “The opioid epidemic is already taking a massive toll in our communities and eliminating critical Medicaid funding will do further harm to a nationwide epidemic.”

Maine’s drug overdose mortality rate has increased dramatically and at an accelerating pace over the past five years, exceeding an average of one death a day throughout 2016. The effects have been felt in communities across the state.

“Like most of my family in Maine, my cousin, who is an addict, has struggled to afford adequate healthcare coverage. Dealing with addiction but being denied access to the treatment you need to get clean at the same time is the catch-22 that far too many Mainers find themselves confronted with,” said Gen Lysen, lead organizer with the Maine People’s Alliance and a resident of Lewiston. “He and countless others who are struggling with mental health or substance use disorder issues rely on Medicaid, and eliminating behavioral healthcare coverage would put thousands of vulnerable Mainers at further risk of relapse, overdose, homelessness, death.”

On Monday, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the Republican bill, 14 million people would lose their health insurance next year and 24 million would lose insurance over the next decade.

More than 19,000 Mainers suffering from serious mental illness or substance abuse disorders have found health coverage through the ACA insurance marketplace.

“Fundamental to our approach to dealing with this epidemic is ensuring that people have access to high-quality addiction care,” said Michael Botticelli, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. “Simply put, people who have that access don’t die, and they get better.”

Photo via Flickr/Frankleleon.

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