Sen. Rob Portman wants opioid money added to health care bill

Sen. Rob Portman has privately urged Senate Republican leaders to include billions of federal dollars to treat opioid addiction as part of a controversial health bill that could reach the Senate floor next week.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would dramatically revise the 2010 health law known as Obamacare by shifting hundreds of billions of dollars to the states to design their own health plans.

But the bill does not specifically include any money to treat the epidemic of opioid addiction, an issue Portman, R-Ohio, emphasized during his re-election campaign last year. More than 150,000 people in Ohio are undergoing through Medicaid treatment for opioids and other drugs.

“While he is still reviewing this latest proposal, Rob has and will continue to advocate for additional opioid funding just as he has done throughout the health care debate,” said Emily Benavides, a Portman spokeswoman.

Portman’s request for opioid money came as a new study shows Ohio could lose as much as $9 billion in federal dollars by 2026 if congressional Republicans approve the Graham bill.

Released by the Washington consulting firm of Avalere Health, the study suggests lawmakers in Columbus would have to find billions of new state dollars to maintain current levels of health care for people receiving Medicaid, the joint federal and state program which provides health coverage for low-income people.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich relied on federal Medicaid dollars made available through Obamacare to extend coverage to more than 700,000 low-income people. Obamacare allowed families of four earning as much as $34,000 a year to qualify for Medicaid.

The report, sponsored by the Democratic leaning Center for American Progress, may undercut efforts by Senate Republicans to push the bill through next week with a parliamentary maneuver that would require just 51 votes.

Jon Keeling, a Kasich spokesman, said, “Make no mistake, losing billions of dollars would be devastating to Ohio as we work to provide care to our state’s most vulnerable and drug addicted.”

“The only ones who can support this legislation are those who haven’t had time to properly assess the damage it would do,” Keeling said.

Although Portman has yet to say whether he would support the Graham bill, he told reporters Wednesday that he is “supportive of the idea of getting flexibility back to the states.”

At Portman’s urging, Senate Republicans last July included $45 billion in opioid treatment money in a bill aimed at scrapping Obamacare. But the bill collapsed in the Senate.

Because Graham’s bill would provide states with greater authority to design their own health plans, states could use those dollars for opioid treatment. But states such as Ohio would likely face a financial squeeze by having to use fewer federal dollars to finance coverage for Medicaid and help middle-income people pay for federally subsidized insurance policies established by Obamacare.

“This bill is worse than the last one,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “First, there is no money dedicated for opioid treatment. Second, it’s worse for those states (such as Ohio) where Governor Kasich did the right thing and expanded Medicaid.”

“If it passes, frankly the Republican majority should be ashamed of themselves,” Brown told reporters on a conference call.

The Graham bill, in essence, would tell the states they could stay in Obamacare or take billions of federal dollars to design their own programs. The federal government would supply states with per-capita grants.

The bill would repeal the law’s requirements that individuals buy federally subsidized insurance policies.

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