Medicaid Spending For Opioid Addiction Treatment Rises Dramatically

By Bryan Le 07/10/17

The Medicaid expansion, which helps pay for medications such as Suboxone (buprenorphine) and Narcan (naloxone), would be a casualty of the GOP's healthcare bill.

Patients awaiting treatment.
Medicaid spending increases have done some good, but could be soon eliminated.

Senate Republicans are aiming to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and with it the increases in Medicaid spending it mandated. But a new report by the Urban Institute reveals that the increased Medicaid budget went to providing addiction treatment to combat the rising tide of opioid deaths.

As the national toll of opioid-related deaths rose, the increase in spending rose as well. According to estimates by the New York Times, drug overdose deaths reached as high as 59,000 in the year 2016.

With rising overdose incidents and new looming opioid threats like fentanyl and its ilk, emergency personnel from around the country have begun stocking up on naloxone, a fast-acting drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. A study finds that naloxone has reduced overdose deaths by 9-11% in the United States. It’s no wonder why Medicaid spending on naloxone increased by over 90,000% in five years, according to the Urban Institute.

The Medicaid expansion also included buprenorphine and naltrexone, medications used to treat patients with opioid use disorder. Spending on these drugs rose by 136% on average nationwide, with the top seven most needy states increasing spending on these drugs by more than 400%.

The Senate Republican healthcare bill seeks to phase out these increases in Medicaid spending even as the opioid crisis continues to increase in scope and severity. The reform includes measures to provide $45 billion to needy states for opioid treatment over 10 years, but the Urban Institute says that’s not nearly enough.

"Either the $2 billion or the $45 billion that have been bounced around are really nothing compared to the treatment needed," said report co-author Lisa Clemans-Cope. "When you look at rapid expansion in spending, it's hard to tell at what point the need would be satisfied."

These spending cuts don’t sit well with some GOP members from states hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, including Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

"I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic," Portman wrote in a release.

The report finds that Medicaid spent almost $1 billion on these medications in 2016—and that figure doesn’t even include methadone, another widely-used opioid addiction treatment. As grim as the numbers are, the report doesn’t even yet take into account the effects that cutting spending would have on co-occurring issues and costs, such as mental health services, HIV or hepatitis C.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter