Vice News Details How Trump Repealing Obamacare Could Impact Those Battling Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 01/09/17

Some fear that overdose deaths could surge in places where Medicaid expansion is currently helping to fight the opioid epidemic.

Donald Trump

President-elect Donald Trump has stated his intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and a new segment by Vice News Tonight highlights how that move could cause fatal results for drug users who rely on Obamacare for addiction treatment.

Thirty-one states opted into the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion program. For Kentucky, the move meant that 450,000 of the state’s poorest residents were enrolled. Drug treatment services for these beneficiaries increased by 740%.

The expansion allowed residents like Ronda Hardin, who spent five months behind bars after shoplifting to support her heroin addiction, to receive free drug treatment because the Louisville jail she stayed in enrolled her in Medicaid. That enabled her to receive shots of the opioid blocker Vivitrol upon being released, which would cost $1,000 each if she paid out of pocket.

“[It meant] somebody cares and thank God there’s something out there that will help me pay for this,” said Hardin. “If I was released straight from jail on my own, I’d probably go get high because it’s easier to get $20 or $40 than $1,000.”

Vice News Tonight segment

Since 1999, fatal overdoses from opioids have quadrupled in the U.S. But despite this data, the initiative is viewed as too costly by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s pick for U.S. health secretary. He introduced a bill in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare and instead offer states $750 million in grants to combat substance abuse. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has also echoed similar sentiments, despite the state being projected to save $21 million on mental and behavioral health services thanks to the expansion.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) explained that Price’s plan would potentially end programs like the one offered to Hardin because health insurers would no longer be required to cover drug treatment.

“We’re talking literally thousands and thousands of people being treated for addiction who will lose coverage,” said Yarmuth. "So they’ll either have to come up with the money themselves, which in most cases is impossible, or they’re going to spiral into more serious problems. There is a human cost to this, human cost meaning death.”

With access to drug treatment potentially declining in the near future, many drug users like Hardin are aware of the importance of sticking to the program laid out in front of them.

“[Vivitrol] is actually a life-changing shot if someone really wants to get clean. I’m ready to change my life. I’m 40 years old almost and tired of using drugs,” she said. “I think I can deal with one shot a month compared to sticking a needle in my arm every day.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.