clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Experts say Senate Republicans’ $2 billion opioid fund is about $188 billion short

As an unprecedented number of Americans die from opioid overdoses, the Senate’s new health care bill is trying to put a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, the Senate’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, would appropriate $2 billion in 2018 to fund state grants to boost treatment and recovery services for those struggling with drug addiction and mental health disorders. There’s no mention of more money going to fund drug treatment beyond 2018.

The $2 billion number proposed is a fraction of what two key Republican senators from states hardest hit by the opioid crisis were asking for in the bill’s final version. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito had requested $45 billion over the next 10 years.

And it’s way less than the number that opioid advocates say will truly help in addressing the addiction crisis: $190 billion over the next 10 years.

The reason that number is so steep is because intravenous drug use creates a whole slew of other health problems, including hepatitis C, HIV, and bacterial endocarditis, Harvard University health economics professor Dr. Richard Frank told McClatchy’s Tony Pugh.

While the $45 billion proposed by Portman and Capito may cover the cost of drug treatment, Frank estimates that the $190 billion number is closer to what is needed to cover treatment and cure the diseases drug users pick up along the way. One reason is that cures for hepatitis C are extremely expensive; the cost to cure one person ranges from $70,000 to $90,000.

Hepatitis C is already costing American taxpayers a lot of money; Medicare and Medicaid spent more on the hepatitis C treatment Harvoni in 2016 than any other medicine.

The Senate bill could also worsen the opioid epidemic through changes to Medicaid, a program that covers 34 percent of the 2.66 million Americans addicted to opioids.

The Senate bill would phase out the Medicaid expansion, which covered millions of low-income, childless Americans, beginning in 2021. It would also cut Medicaid in other ways, including by capping the amount states can spend on people enrolled in the public health insurance program.

Portman’s Democratic colleague from Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown, blasted the cuts to Medicaid and the $2 billion provided by the bill to address the drug crisis nationwide — noting that last year, Ohio alone spent $1 billion fighting the opioid epidemic.

“This bill takes away the No. 1 tool we have in the fight against opioids — Medicaid treatment,” Brown said.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.