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Addiction Experts Blast Senate Health Care Package

Jul 10, 2017

More than 60 experts in the field of opioid addiction have voiced their opposition to the Senate’s version of health care reform. One of those signing a statement opposing the bill is a professor at the Yale School of Public Health. 

The statement says that the Senate’s version of health care repeal would “cripple national efforts to address the opioid epidemic.”

“One of the major benefits of expanding health care, getting more people on insurance, is it allows people to seek the care they need at an earlier stage of their various diseases,” Robert Heimer told WNPR.

Heimer is Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, and he’s worked for several decades now in researching effective ways of treating drug addictions and their various complications in communities throughout Connecticut.

Professor Robert Heimer of the Yale School of Public Health
Credit Yale University

Heimer said three aspects of the Senate health care reform worry him particularly: the rollback of the Medicaid expansion, limiting access for people with pre-existing conditions; and placing lifetime caps on the cost of treatment.

“Each of those three issues will have a negative consequence on the lives of people who suffer from opioid use disorder,” he said.

Heimer has observed in recent years that better access to insurance and care through the Affordable Care Act has meant more people have been able to seek effective, medication-assisted treatment for addictions, as well as getting care for other health issues that go along with substance abuse. Those needs aren’t going away anytime soon.

“But if the funding isn’t there through Medicaid and affordable insurance,” he said, “then the people who are suffering from substance use disorder and its related consequences are not going to get the care they need, and in the long run, the cost to the health care system will be even greater.”

Heimer is also very disturbed by recent comments from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, who said in May that he doesn’t believe some medication-assisted treatments, like suboxone and methadone, are effective.

“I don’t think belief is important here,” said Heimer. “I think medical evidence is. And the medical evidence is clear: medication-based treatment is effective, cost-saving, saves lives, reduces crime, allows people to go back to work, allows families to reunite, prevents opioid overdose.”

He hopes federal funding that supports medication- based treatments will continue to reach states like Connecticut. The state has recently benefited from several million dollars in federal grants to combat the opioid crisis, provided under legislation signed by President Barack Obama.

Other signatories of the statement opposing the senate bill include Michael Botticelli, the former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Kelly Clark, the President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Kathryn Cates-Wessel, the CEO of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

WNPR's Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network's MATCH Program.