Repeal Obamacare and the opioid epidemic will get much worse

Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan is dangerous for the health and economic well-being of our Commonwealth. A new Harvard Medical School and New York University study shows that repealing the ACA would have tragic consequences for millions of Americans affected by mental illness and by the devastating opioid epidemic. 180,526 Pennsylvanians suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder will lose access to critical mental health services that the ACA makes possible.

Pennsylvania ranks among the highest in the nation in opioid overdose-related deaths and prescribing rates.  Nationwide, the study estimates that more than 4 million Americans with serious mental illness or substance use disorders, of whom about 222,000 have an opioid use disorder, would lose some or all of their insurance coverage.

From Philadelphia to Scranton to Pittsburgh, the opioid epidemic is devastating families throughout Pennsylvania. In fact, we are in the midst of the worst overdose epidemic ever. Mothers, fathers, and children are losing their lives to addiction, but Congress’s plans to repeal the ACA without a replacement would leave them in the cold, without access to the treatment they need.

Dane is one of the 180,526 Pennsylvanians who will be left out in the cold. He is from Schuykill County near Pottsville and now lives in Philadelphia. When he was 20 in 2010, he suffered a brain injury in a bike accident. He was fortunate to be covered by his parents’ plan that took care of his immediate recovery.

When Dane aged off of his parents’ plan, he was uninsured and started working for a small business. While the company was too small to offer health coverage, he was able to find a plan through the ACA that met his needs. He used his coverage to get connected to a primary care doctor, who helped identify depression related to his injury and got him on medication to treat it.

The regular relationship that Dane built with his PCP helped him to acknowledge that he was abusing alcohol and had had a substance use disorder since the accident. Without the ACA and regular primary care, he wouldn't have been in a position to acknowledge the problem, and it would almost certainly have gotten worse.

After successfully completing treatment for alcohol abuse and getting connected to a counselor, Dane lost his job.  He was worried that his recovery would be affected, but he learned that he was eligible for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. It meant that he wouldn't have to deplete his savings to pay for the medications he needs to support his recovery. Dane is starting school now, but he’s worried that if the ACA is repealed, he'd be forced to go without the medications and care that keep him healthy.

The statistics related to addiction in Pennsylvania, and nationwide, are bleak, and repealing the ACA would wipe out much of the progress we have made. A report issued this week by the Department of Health and Human Services shows how important the ACA has been to addressing opioid epidemic.

Recently Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act with bipartisan support, providing additional funding to increase treatment capacity for opioid use and addiction nationwide. But repealing the ACA would withdraw $5.5 billion each year from the treatment of people these disorders. This makes no sense.

Congress should protect, not withdraw, critical funding and resources that help hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians get the care they need. Without it, what will happen to folks like Dane who turned their lives around thanks to the ACA’s coverage? What will happen to our local economies.

Will that state budgets have to make up the difference? Then we, as taxpayers, will also bear the burden.


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