3 ways repealing ACA could exacerbate the opioid epidemic

A repeal of the ACA could have detrimental implications for the future of the nation's ongoing and unprecedented drug overdose epidemic, according to a Health Affairs blog post.

Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any other year on record. The high rate of overdoses creates an estimated economic burden of $78.5 billion per year, according to the blog post. A repeal of the ACA could slash at least $5.5 billion annually in treatment funds for low-income people with mental and substance use disorders covered under the ACA's mental and substance use disorder coverage provisions.

Here are three ways a repeal of the ACA could adversely affect the opioid epidemic, according to the blog.

1. A repeal of the ACA without a replacement plan would double America's uninsured rate, which means many receiving treatment for substance abuse would no longer be able to afford their care. However, in the three states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic — Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia — the uninsured rate would triple under an ACA repeal.

2. The ACA closed gaps in mental health insurance coverage.Prior to its passage, small employer were exempt from providing workers behavioral health services. Under the ACA, employers were obligated to provide coverage for substance abuse treatment, prevention and harm reduction services. An ACA repeal would mean employers would no longer have to offer such coverage.

3. Under the ACA's state expansion of Medicaid, 1.2 million people with substance abuse disorders gained health insurance. Subsequently, uninsured substance use or mental health disorder hospitalizations dropped from 20 percent to 5 percent between 2010 and 2015 in states with Medicaid expansion. A rollback of this expansion via an ACA repeal would greatly reduce the capacity of Medicaid, which is the single largest source of coverage and funding for behavioral health services, to cover those suffering from substance abuse disorders.

More articles on opioids: 
Surging opioid deaths leads to overflow at Ohio coroner's office 
Opioids now 'painkiller of last resort' for UK Healthcare 
ERs taking steps to prescribe fewer opioids

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