The rush by Republican leaders and President Donald Trump to try to blow up Obamacare was misguided in so many ways, not least of which the likely devastating impact on Americans fighting drug addiction.
Right when opioid abuse is driving the worst overdose epidemic ever, the House GOP bill to overhaul the Affordable Care Act would slash Medicaid funding and allow states to drop substance abuse treatment and other “essential benefits” from health coverage. One study estimates that 2.8 million Americans with drug abuse problems – including 222,000 addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids – could lose part or all of their coverage.
It’s a painfully ironic twist that many of the states suffering most in the opioid crisis voted for Trump in November. Swing states that decided the election also recorded statistically significant increases in drug overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015: Florida (22.7 percent), Michigan (13.3 percent), Ohio (21.5 percent) and Pennsylvania (20.1 percent), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Surely, this can’t be what Trump voters believed they would be getting from the candidate who promised better, cheaper health care for everyone and the president who vowed to Congress last month that he would end America’s “terrible drug epidemic.”
While the bill was pulled Friday before it failed, Trump put on the hard sell on Capitol Hill and in campaign rallies, as he did this week in Kentucky, which had the third highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2015.
Deep blue California isn’t immune. While it had only a 2 percent rise in 2015, it still had more than 4,600 overdose deaths, up by 50 percent from 2002. Nationally, more than 52,000 died of drug overdoses, nearly two-thirds from opioids. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999.
Health groups are urging Congress and the Trump administration to stand down on cutting drug treatment. While a Democratic amendment to preserve substance abuse coverage was voted down in a House committee, even some Republican senators had expressed concern.
This is only one of the rude awakenings that Trump backers will get if Trumpcare ever becomes law. And I’d be willing to bet it’s a pattern that will be repeated on tax cuts, trade and other big items on Trump’s agenda.
The president styles himself a great salesman. Maybe he is, but eventually his voters will find out they’ve been conned.
By the numbers
Drug overdose deaths in 2015 and the increase from 2014 for selected states:
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention