Owens: Medicaid expansion must be protected – Cincinnati.com

Dr. O’dell M. Owens is the president and chief executive officer of Interact for Health.

The opioid epidemic is threatening the health of our community. It’s touching our neighbors, our friends, our children and our parents. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with Ohio ranking among the highest overdose rates in the nation. But the impact spreads beyond those addicted, to the emotional toll on communities and the spread of infectious disease.

Interact for Health is working collaboratively with many organizations and communities to create a regional infrastructure to turn the tide in the opioid epidemic, but our efforts alone are not enough. We are closely watching the process underway now in the state and U.S. Congress to unravel the health insurance protections and the Medicaid expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Through those provisions, more than 150,000 Ohioans have received treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

Recovery from addiction is possible and must be our goal. Recently, Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor bravely shared the story of her family’s fight against this addiction and how fortunate they were to have found the type of treatment that was necessary to help her sons get their lives back on track. The opiate crisis is growing and any legislative measure that limits access to care will have a profound negative impact on our collective efforts to stop the crisis and its devastating impact on individuals, families, and our community.

Children are often the silent victims, and perhaps the most harmed by the opiate crisis. According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in 2016, there was a 14-fold increase in the rate of opioid-exposed babies born since 2009. These newborns face life-threatening medical issues that require expensive and extensive medical intervention to overcome the effects of these drugs. Both newborn babies and older children – many of whom have witnessed a parent OD in front of them ­–­ deserve a chance, a chance to get healthy and a chance to have parents get the treatment they need to battle their addiction.

Our region is making headway against the disease of addiction: treatment providers and law enforcement agencies are collaborating, health care systems are sharing information about best practices, and peer recovery specialists are encouraging people who want to enter treatment. But without the current Medicaid structure and requirement that insurance cover addiction treatment, that essential link to recovery would be lost for many, causing our community to lose valuable ground.

Beyond the impact on the opiate crisis, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that 23 million more people would lose health insurance over the next decade if Medicaid and its expansion are changed via the proposed America’s Health Care Act (AHCA), including an estimated 1 million Ohioans. According to the CBO, that would mean that people living in states that cut back on those benefits “would experience substantial increases in out-of-pocket spending on health care or would choose to forgo the services.”

We simply cannot afford to allow the fight for our community’s health to backslide. We need more help combatting addiction and increased access to affordable health care for all of us. As the Ohio Senate considers its budget and U.S. Senate considers the AHCA, Medicaid expansion must be protected. The health of our community depends upon it.

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