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Schumer: GOP health care bills would impede fight against opioids

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    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., center, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Schumer said the Republicans’ health care bills would impede the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic.
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    A man putting together the spray device for naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses.
June 29, 2017 12:32 am Updated: June 30, 2017 01:10 am

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer accused Congressional Republicans of putting the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic in jeopardy by proposing to eliminate open-ended federal Medicaid entitlements, citing that Medicaid helps people with addictions afford recovery services.

The controversy over the GOP’s plans to overhaul the current health care system under the Affordable Care Act continued last week after Senate Republicans released its Better Care Reconciliation Act — an amended version of the House of Representatives’ American Health Care Act passed in May — which the Congressional Budget Office said would increase the number of people uninsured by 22 million at the end of 10 years.

“Every single day people are dying from heroin and opioids,” Schumer said during a press conference Wednesday. “Heroin and opioid use is spreading like wildfire. So why are my colleagues trying to cut a vital source of funds to fight the epidemic.”

Both bills would eliminate extra federal Medicaid funds, which were incentives for states to expand the pool of Medicaid recipients, and change the system so states will receive lump-sum funding in the form of block grants or an allotment of money for each recipient.

The CBO report for the Senate version of the bill states the bill would reduce the deficit by $321 billion, but that most of the savings will come out of Medicaid.

“The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid — spending on the program would decline in 2026 by 26 percent in comparison with what CBO projects under current law,” according to the report.

The CBO estimated that the bills would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $772 billion from 2017 to 2026.

“Medicaid is the largest payer for substance abuse services,” Schumer said.

Schumer said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is holding the bill from a vote until after Congress’ recess starting July 3, could be an opportunity for Republicans to fashion a bipartisan bill.

“Let’s scrap this bill and talk about the things that need to be done,” Schumer said. “But any funding for the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic need to be included in the budget.”

The Twin Counties Recovery Services Inc. provides substance abuse services to the Columbia-Greene area.

Twin County Recovery Services Executive Director Beth Schuster said the number of people the center treats for opioid addiction increased from 10 to 75 over a five-to-10-year span.

“About three-fourths of people who come here pay with Medicaid,” Schuster said. “I’m not sure what the bills will do to us in New York. We take it one day at a time because things change quick.”

Data provided by the Healthcare Consortium showed there were six recorded opioid-related deaths in Columbia County in 2015 and eight in Greene County that year.

Since last Friday, Hudson saw three overdoses, with one a fatality.

“Opioid abuse is a genuine epidemic. I’ve spoken with too many parents around my district whose children have succumbed to addiction, or worse,” said U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19. “They tell me there’s no single solution to this crisis. In May I voted to support a bipartisan budget agreement which allocated millions of dollars in additional treatment and prevention resources.”

Faso committed to reauthorize the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which provides funds to states to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic. The appropriations bill must be reauthorized each year.

The AHCA would provide $15 billion for several different services including maternity care and inpatient and outpatient mental health care and care for addiction.

“This fund is provided to states and encourages greater innovation and evidence-based approaches to saving lives,” Faso said. “I’m confident that there will remain sufficient resources through Medicaid which, when combined with these other specific appropriations, will fund treatment options.”

The Senate’s health care bill proposes $2 billion to provide grants to states for the purpose of fighting the epidemic.

Owen Hope, of Chatham, said when he was a senior in high school in 2005, heroin was becoming a popular drug in his hometown.

“I remember going to parties and seeing these bright people bumping heroin,” Hope said. “There needs to be more support for people in the 17-to-24 age range.”

President Donald Trump proposed providing the Department of Justice $103 million in 2018 for the express purpose of fighting the epidemic.

Hope said he does not think more law enforcement is the best way to fight the epidemic.

“I’ve known too many people who have overdosed on heroin and opioids,” said Mike Pizza, of Hudson. “I don’t think jail is the answer.”

Kevin Hasbrouck, of Coxsackie, said the government should get tougher on dealers.

“I hear about the epidemic every morning on my police scanner at home,” Hasbrouck said. “I think they should hang anyone dealing that stuff.”

Ellen MacMillan of Maryland, who was visiting Catskill, agreed that there should be tougher penalties for dealers.

“There should be tighter controls on people selling [heroin and opioids],” she said. “It is an awful thing that seems to affect a lot of people, young and old.”