How Trumpcare Would Hurt The President’s Working-Class Base More Than Almost Anyone Else

In the heart of Trump country, voters supported him by a ratio of 2-1. But for hundreds of thousands, the ACA has been a lifesaver.

President Trump spoke at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on July 24, joining a long list of presidents who have spoken to the huge meeting of Boy Scouts, troop leaders, and volunteers. The visit was not surprising, as West Virginia, in the center of Appalachia, is overwhelmingly Trump country.

It is also at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic, with a rate of nearly 42 overdose deaths per 100,000, more than double the national average. Indeed, on Aug. 15, 2016, Huntington, home of Marshall University, experienced more than two dozen overdoses in a span of just four hours.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]More than 210,000 West Virginians with substance abuse or mental health problems gained coverage under the ACA.[/quote]

West Virginia is also a state that has been aggressive in taking advantage of federal opportunities under the Affordable Care Act, including the insurance marketplaces and the Medicaid expansion.

While about two-thirds of West Virginia voters supported Trump in the election, support for expanding Medicaid has largely been bipartisan — at least until now.

With GOP repeal-and-replace efforts still very much up in the air, one thing has become clear: All of the proposals made public by congressional Republicans so far would have significant detrimental effects on West Virginia’s and America’s ability to combat the opioid epidemic.

An escalating problem

The opioid addiction crisis in America is growing worse. An analysis in June 2017 by The New York Times showed a 19% increase in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016, and experts cited opioids as the likely reason for the increase.

More than 20 million Americans suffer from an addiction. Close to 7 million of these addicts also have a mental illness. The surgeon general’s office has estimated that the yearly productivity losses, health care costs, and criminal justice expenses for alcohol misuse and illicit drug abuse amount to $442 billion.

In 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. More than 33,000 of these involved opioids. Compared to 1999, the number of overdose deaths nearly tripled, driven by the opioid crisis.

This epidemic is not only killing people and ripping apart families. It also has created an enormous drain on America’s health and social systems.

For instance, drug overdoses lead to more than 5 million emergency department visits per year.

In towns in West Virginia and many other states, school systems, fire and police departments, and city governments spend ever-growing funds on providing emergency overdose treatments such as Naloxone.

Indeed, Medicaid spending on the drug has increased by 90,000% in just five years.

And a West Virginia program to support needy families with burial expenses has run out of funds for five years straight.

The epidemic has also created tremendous problems for child welfare system and schools, which have to deal with the drug-addicted parents and abandoned children.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story is the growing number of newborns delivered by addicted mothers, who have to undergo addiction treatment from the minute they are born.

How Obamacare helped

The ACA called for states to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income people. Not all states did this; the 19 who bucked expansion were Republican-controlled states.

But not all Republican states resisted expansion. West Virginia, desperate for help for its laid-off miners and for its thousands of people addicted to opioids, was one of the more than a dozen states that voted for the president and expanded Medicaid.

The expansion of Medicaid has been crucial in two ways. For one, providing insurance coverage for an additional 180,000 West Virginians has proven critical to getting many of them into treatment.

Moreover, the newly insured are subject to the ACA’s essential health benefit provisions, requiring states to make available substance abuse and mental health treatment to them.

Finally, the essential health benefit provisions required policies sold in the individual market to cover addiction and mental health services. It also eliminated annual and lifetime limits on these benefits.

Overall, more than 210,000 West Virginians with substance abuse or mental health problems gained coverage under the ACA.

Epidemic would escalate

While the exact nature of Republican repeal-and-replace efforts remains unclear at this moment, all proposals made public so far would pose enormous challenges for states like West Virginia to turn the tide on the devastating opioid epidemic.

One of the most essential tools in fighting the epidemic, the expansion of Medicaid, would be rolled back either immediately or over several years. Furthermore, the entire Medicaid program, the backbone of states’ efforts to provide treatment and services for opioid addiction, would be further curtailed by per-capita caps.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Perhaps the saddest part of the story is the growing number of newborns delivered by addicted mothers.[/quote]

Moreover, all proposals would either outright eliminate or allow states to waive the crucial essential health benefit provisions. These provisions require insurers to provide coverage for certain specified conditions, such as pregnancy, addiction treatment, and emergency room care, that they might otherwise refuse to cover because of their costs.

Under certain proposals, lifetime and annual limits could also affect those covered by employer-provided insurance to lose access to crucial treatment options.

In its most recent iteration, Senate Republicans have added $45 billion over 10 years specifically to deal with the opioid crisis to bring onboard crucial moderates like Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

However, as Ohio Gov. John Kasich stated, given the enormous size of the opioid problem, this amounts to “spitting in the ocean.” Medicaid alone spends more than $1 billion annually solely on medications for addiction treatments. This does not include costs to providers or treatment facilities.

Moving forward

Treating addiction is challenging and involves more than access to insurance coverage. However, evidence-based treatment, which includes replacement medications and counseling, has shown success in America’s fight against the epidemic ravaging many of its communities.

Stemming the opioid epidemic requires a prolonged, multi-pronged approach.

It requires a hard look at how we prescribe painkillers. Health care providers like Kaiser Permanente have shown that success is possible.

It also requires taking a hard look at the role that pharmaceutical companies play.

It requires providing jobs and hope to rural America, which overwhelmingly voted for President Trump and his promises, and which disproportionately suffers from this epidemic.

Most definitely, it requires also providing medical treatment to individuals trying to overcome their additions. Unfortunately, so far, none of the GOP proposals have done that. GOP proposals do not include the means to do that.

Trump has long championed the people of West Virginia, but a visit to the Boy Scouts does little to alleviate the suffering in the heart of Appalachia.

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less