Cuts to Medicaid could worsen U.S. opioid crisis, governors warn

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Reuters) - Proposals by U.S. Senate Republicans to phase out the expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income Americans could hurt state efforts to fight the country’s opioid drug addiction crisis, governors warned on Thursday.

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Democratic and Republican governors meeting in Rhode Island warned that many residents of their states were relying on Medicaid to get treatment for opioid addiction, which grips an estimated 3 million Americans and killed 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, according to federal data.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think what’s happening with healthcare in Congress right now is affecting this issue,”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, told his counterparts at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Providence.

“We cannot have millions of Americans lose their health coverage and still effectively attack this crisis. We can’t significantly reduce Medicaid spending and still be successful in fighting opioid addiction.”

Cooper spoke the day that U.S. Senate Republican leaders released revised legislation intended to salvage efforts by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law popularly known as Obamacare.

The bill would phase out Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and make sharp cuts to federal Medicaid spending beginning in 2025.

At least one Republican governor at the meeting, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, shared Cooper’s concerns about proposed cuts.

“We’re reviewing the version that was released today. The first version made very severe cuts to Medicaid and some other programs that would have had a very significant impact to our state. It’s one of the main reasons I came out against it,” Sununu said in a brief interview.

“They have to solicit the input from those of us governors, mayors, county commissioners, all the way down. Those of us who are implementing these programs are the ones that really understand the impact.”

Governors from both parties said they were focusing much of their efforts on the crisis on requiring doctors to reduce their prescriptions of the drugs, as well as increasing the availability of treatment for addicts.

“In Rhode Island and in a number of states, we are very effectively using Medicaid coverage to allow people to seek treatment for their opioid addiction,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat. Under the proposed scaling back of Medicaid, she added: “That would all be stripped away.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney