WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says in a report released Tuesday the latest health care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives will be a “disaster” to West Virginia families.
In the 8-page report, Manchin outlines the negative effects the Republican’s American Health Care Act could have on the drug fight in West Virginia and neighboring states.
Manchin joined U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and law enforcement officers from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky in a conference call with reporters Tuesday to discuss how the bill could worsen the opioid crisis.
On the call, Manchin said the bill would undermine coverage for substance abuse treatment, which he believes is desperately needed in the Mountain State.
“Addiction, as we know it, is not an illness. We know it is an illness and we know that an illness needs treatment The treatment we’re able to give now through the Affordable Care Act is the first step. We’re going to lose mostly all of that,” Manchin said.
More than 50,000 West Virginians received substance abuse treatment through Medicaid coverage in 2016, according to the report. Manchin said the state received $112 million in federal funding to provide services to those people.
Manchin said the new health care plan would eliminate that coverage. “That will go away,” he said.
In all, nearly 200,000 West Virginians gained coverage through the Medicaid expansion.
Manchin’s report details the dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths in West Virginia from 1999-2015. In 1999, there were less than 50 overdose deaths. By 2015, more than 800 people died of drug overdoses. More than 700 of those deaths included an opioid.
Preliminary estimates suggest drug overdose deaths climbed another 19 percent in 2016 nationwide.
In Kentucky, the drug problem is just as bad. Mike Ward, police chief in Alexandria, Kentucky, said the northern part of the state and part of Cincinnati, Ohio recorded 1,676 overdoses in 2016. There have been 1,269 overdoses so far this year.
“I’m watching families suffer immensely because of loss of loved ones. It’s hitting all socioeconomic structures and people. We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Ward said on the conference call.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the highest age-adjusted overdose death rate in the nation, with more than 41 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015.
That’s why, Manchin said, Medicaid funding is crucial.
“In West Virginia, we get almost 75 percent funding from the federal government for Medicaid and on the expansion we get 90 percent. That is going to be changed dramatically. That is why this piece of legislation needs to be reworked,” he said.
Ward said law enforcement officers need to be a part of the solution and that cutting federal funding is not the way to go.
“It’s not a law enforcement issue. It is a community issue. We have to pull together and work this thing together and hopefully we can save people’s lives,” he said.