Republican Senator takes aim at Medicaid during opioid hearing: 5 things to know

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., argued Medicaid may have exacerbated the nation's opioid crisis at a Senate hearing Wednesday, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Here are five things to know.

1. Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, first made the argument linking Medicaid to the opioid crisis in the summer of 2017, when Senators were developing a bill to roll back ACA Medicaid expansion, according to The Washington Post.

"The Medicaid expansion may be fueling the opioid epidemic in communities across the country," Mr. Johnson wrote to the HHS inspector general last July, according to the Post. "Because opioids are so available and inexpensive through Medicaid, it appears that the program has created a perverse incentive for people to use opioids, sell them for large profits and stay hooked."

2. During Wednesday's Senate hearing, Mr. Johnson introduced a report from committee Republicans titled "Drugs for Dollars: How Medicaid Helps Fuel the Opioid Epidemic." The report cites 1,072 people who have either been convicted or charged for illegally using Medicaid to obtain opioids since 2010. The report also argues drug overdose rates are increasing faster in Medicaid expansion states, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"Drug overdose deaths per one million people are rising nearly twice as fast in expansion states as non-expansion states, while opioid-related hospital stays paid for by Medicaid massively spiked after expansion," the report says, according to the Journal Sentinel.

3. In his prepared testimony, Andrew Kolodny, MD, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University's Heller School in Waltham, Mass., took issue with Mr. Johnson's argument, citing the rise of extremely potent synthetic opioids as the primary reason for the recent surge in overdose deaths, not Medicaid.

"Overdoses have increased in people with Medicaid, Medicare and commercial insurance. They have also increased in people without insurance," said Dr. Koldony, according to the Journal Sentinel. "Where we have seen the fastest-growing share of hospitalizations for opioid overdose has been Medicare, not Medicaid."

4. Medicaid proponents argue the program's expansion has improved access to treatment for opioid addiction. In 2015, about 30 percent of Americans with opioid addiction were covered by Medicaid, providing these patients access to treatment for substance use, according to the Post.

5. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the committee's ranking Democrat, missed Wednesday's hearing due to the flu, but pushed back against the argument in her prepared testimony.

"This idea that Medicaid expansion is fueling the rise in opioid deaths is total hogwash," said Sen. McCaskill, according to the Journal Sentinel. "It is not supported by the facts. And I am concerned that this committee is using taxpayer dollars to push out this misinformation to advance a political agenda."

More articles on opioids: 
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