Medicaid essential to addressing opioid epidemic: 4 report insights

Medicaid provides essential funding and health coverage for addiction services in the large swaths of America wracked by the opioid overdose crisis that resulted in more than 42,000 deaths nationwide in 2016, according to a report conducted by Manatt Health.

For the report, researchers examined data on state and federal Medicaid spending for services related to opioid addiction treatment for New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia, which have been particularly hard hit by the crisis. Researchers also assessed data on other federal spending for opioid addiction treatment and information on rates of opioid overdoses nationwide.

Here are four insights from the report.

1. Medicaid spending on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction more than doubled over the last five years with growth rates highest in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA. In 2016, Medicaid accounted for 24 percent of buprenorphine prescriptions around the nation. In Ohio, Medicaid paid for nearly 50 percent of all buprenorphine prescriptions statewide in 2016.

2. Medicaid spending on treatment for opioid addiction — which includes prevention and recovery services — is significantly higher than other federal funds dedicated to addiction treatment. In 2013, prior to Medicaid expansion under the ACA, Medicaid spent $9.4 billion on services for beneficiaries with opioid addiction.

3. In 2017, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration allocated $2.9 billion for substance use disorder treatment and prevention, with at least $549 million of this funding devoted to opioid addiction. Medicaid spending for opioid addiction treatment in 2017 was six times higher than non-Medicaid federal grants for the same treatment in New Hampshire, 12 times higher in Ohio and 10 times higher in West Virginia.

"The federal government can use a number of different programs to respond to the opioid crisis, but Medicaid is by far the most impactful," said Patricia Boozang, managing director at Manatt Health, in an emailed release. "Medicaid is providing access to prevention, treatment and recovery services for those suffering from opioid addiction, as well as comprehensive coverage for the full array of physical and behavioral health services that helps increase people's odds of long-term recovery."

4. While some Republicans have argued Medicaid expansion potentially exacerbated the opioid crisis by making pain medication more accessible, the Manatt Health report refuted this assertion. The report argued the rise in opioid overdoses seen in states with Medicaid expansion is likely attributable to the rise in fatal overdoses linked to illicitly obtained fentanyl, not prescription pain pills disseminated through Medicaid.

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