WASHINGTON — As Republicans plan to overhaul Medicaid, the opioid crisis looms large.

More than 30,000 Americans are dying from heroin and painkiller overdoses every year. Hundreds of thousands of people covered by Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid — more than a million, by at least one estimate — have mental health and substance abuse issues.

The GOP plan could impact the program in two ways. First, it would eliminate in 2020 the requirement that states, which administer Medicaid and jointly fund it with the federal government, offer robust coverage of mental health and substance abuse services for people who enrolled in Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, traditional Medicaid coverage of these services is often less generous than the expansion coverage. So the fear is that coverage for those people would be rolled back under the GOP’s plan.


Second, it would fundamentally change how the entire program, which covers more than 70 million people, is funded. Instead of an open-ended federal commitment to pay whatever is necessary, states would receive a set dollar amount from the feds for each person. In exchange, states are supposed to receive more flexibility — even if the Republican bill doesn’t do much to provide it. The Heath and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, has pledged, however, to use his administrative authority to give states that leeway.

The concern, however, is that a spending cap and state flexibility could lead to enrollment cuts and fewer benefits — particularly for high-cost populations like people in addiction recovery.

It’s hard to know for sure what will happen. But the stakes are high. Medicaid pays for 1 out of every 4 prescriptions for the addiction treatment medication buprenorphine, according to data from IMS Health. But there is a lot of variation across states, because they already have a lot of latitude to decide how the program works within their borders.

In some states, like Ohio, Medicaid pays for nearly half of those prescriptions. In other states, the program’s share is much smaller. So some states have much more to lose, depending on how the GOP’s plan ultimately changes things.

The map below should help give you an idea of the stakes.

MAP: Percent of addiction treatment medication that Medicaid pays for, by state

Talia Bronshtein/STAT Source: Use of Opioid Recovery Medications. Report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • Here is a suggestion for saving money, methadone is much cheaper than buprenorphine. A month supply of Buprenorphine can cost up to 1,000 dollars per person compared to methadone/Dolophine which cost less than 100 bucks per month per patient.

  • What concerns me about all of this is the increase in the addiction epidemic in spite of all the money being spent on treatment. We need to invest in treatment that works and not just anything called treatment. This matters too much to think that throwing money at it is the solution. So far, Obamacare $$ has not proven to reduce the number of those dying.

    • That is absolutely WRONG ! I work in a drug treatment practice… you? Without access d/t more people having ins. d/t Obamacare, more people are alive who would be DEAD. One reason more people are dying is Fentanyl, coming from China ! 50x stronger than heroin. We havn;t seen 6AM (metabolite of heroin) in a urine test since last Aug. !!! You should confine you comments to areas of you expertise.

    • I am actively involved in this issue from many sides and have paid for my share of treatment for someone I love dearly. Have you seen the docoumentary “The Business of Recovery”? Not all treatment is good treatment. I will assume yours is.

    • Insurance paid addiction treatment is a loophole for many to get rich off the pain of other’s. No one recovers in 30-90 days. The recidivism rate shows that county programs work just as well if not more so since some can be a year long.
      Medicaid should go for mental illness, not “depression” but Bipolar 1 and Schizophrenia. There is not enough money for treatment and housing for the mentally ill.

Sign up for our Daily Recap newsletter

A roundup of STAT’s top stories of the day in science and medicine

Privacy Policy