People In Recovery Discuss Their Fears About The GOP Healthcare Bill

By Kelly Burch 06/22/17

Recovery advocates say the GOP healthcare bill would be "catastrophic" for people desperately in need of rehabilitation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)

Some Americans in recovery are watching the debate over the Republican health care bill closely, hoping that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare)—which was a lifeline for many—will not be repealed and replaced with a Trumpcare plan that promises to cut Medicaid expansion, preventing the most vulnerable populations from accessing health care. 

Unfortunately for those hoping that the ACA remains intact, the latest version of Trumpcare, which was released on Thursday, is currently being fast-tracked toward a vote for sometime next week.

The revamped bill features substantial cuts to Medicaid and will drastically impact those seeking recovery services.

“I would 100% be on the street or dead without the health insurance,” Stephanie Neeley, a 33-year-old mother who used Medicaid to access addiction treatment, told The Los Angeles Times.

In March, President Trump promised before Congress that “we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.” However, recovery advocates say that the GOP healthcare bill currently being considered would amount to a death sentence for people desperately in need of rehabilitation. 

“It would essentially write off a generation,” said Dr. Shawn Ryan, president of BrightView Health, a network of drug treatment clinics in Cincinnati. “It would be catastrophic.”

Despite that, many Republican legislators seem willing to drastically reduce Medicaid coverage. Repeal legislation passed by the House in April cuts more than $800 billion in federal aid to state Medicaid programs. That money is used to insure low-income Americans, including those with substance use issues. At the same time, the president called for an additional $600 billion in Medicaid cuts over the next decade to be incorporated into the next budget.

Ohio, a state that has been among the hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic, demonstrates the ways that Medicaid and the drug crisis are intertwined. In the state, more than a third of the 700,000 people who enrolled in Medicaid after the expansion began in 2014 reported some drug or alcohol dependence, according to a recent study by the state.

Neeley was one of those patients. After her husband died of a drug overdose and she lost custody of two of her children, she realized that she needed help for her addiction. Her inpatient treatment and medication-assisted therapy (MAT) are entirely covered by Ohio Medicaid. “That’s saving my life right now,” she said.

Medicaid expansion also allowed the state to develop a system for responding to the opioid epidemic, rather than the inconsistent approach to treatment that had previously been employed. Now, however, health care providers in Ohio say that that is under attack, according to the LA Times

“We have never before had a sustained effort to confront substance abuse,” Dr. Ryan said. “We are just beginning to get some momentum to change the whole paradigm for patients… Without Medicaid coverage, we couldn’t continue.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.