Blog Post

The GOP Healthcare Bill Will Doom Millions of People Struggling with Addiction

Bethany Perryman

“You are only as sick as your secrets,” we say. People in recovery from struggles with addiction know this line by heart. To be open and honest about my years of problematic substance use, and my 4 years of recovery, is key to keeping me alive.

This morning, after weeks of backroom drafting and repeated calls for information — sometimes from their own party — the Senate released the text of their healthcare bill, an amended version of the Affordable Health Care Act passed recently in the House.

This concerning lack of transparency until the 11th hour cuts off at the knees the ability for congressional colleagues and the public to hold hearings and invite public discourse surrounding the implications of the now-released text of this long awaited bill.

Now that the bill’s language is public, Senate Republicans want to force a quick vote with no hearings or chance for amendments. The bill rolls back provisions in the Affordable Care Act that guarantee treatment coverage for millions of people, including those who have a history of struggling with addiction and other pre-existing conditions.

The Medicaid expansion would become a ghost, slashing critical funding to states for coordinated care and treatment access. States like West Virginia — with the highest per capita overdose rate in the nation — would have to shoulder these costs on their own. Every Senator knows that's functionally impossible.

I am a person in long-term recovery, and have seen what happens when sick people don’t get medical treatment. Recently, I was advocating for a young woman I know from college who is struggling with addiction. I took her to detox, and sat with her in the hospital — both of us fearing for her life. The scramble to sign her up for Medicaid almost forced her release before she had access to residential treatment. She couldn't afford private insurance, but was eligible for life-saving coverage under the Medicaid expansion in her state.

Expanded coverage access means expanded treatment, which means fewer people die. The opioid crisis is real, and fatal for far too many from all walks of life. If treatment options are suspended for the most vulnerable, substance users won’t go away. In fact, their chances of developing expensive and potentially deadly medical conditions will increase.

The insulting last minute insertion of piecemeal funding for the opioid epidemic is merely lip service, and a poor substitute for sustained treatment and access to care. A recent study out of Ohio State University proves that almost no one in Ohio who is currently covered by the Medicaid expansion would have any options for healthcare coverage following repeal of the ACA. The overdose rate in Ohio jumped 36% last year. The opioid epidemic is killing our loved ones and taking its toll on communities.

Another recent study found that there has been a 70 percent increase in Medicaid-covered prescriptions for buprenorphine – a medication critical to opioid treatment recovery – in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that expanded Medicaid. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone are presently one of our best weapons in the fight against opioid overdose. Should the Republican healthcare bill become law those who presently rely on Medicaid risk losing affordable and reliable treatment options. For many, this could mean relapse or fatal overdose.

As a former substance user, I can tell you — having access to treatment saved my life. I have seen the Medicaid expansion save a life firsthand. Our lawmakers are only as sick as their secrets, too. As such, the GOP healthcare bill should be DOA. Instead, my people – the millions of us who struggle with addiction – could be the ones who die.

Bethany Perryman is an Administrative Associate for the Drug Policy Alliance. She is a person in long term recovery from addiction.

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