Cuomo: A Health Bill Retreat From Opioid Crisis

While states like New York continue to fight against the opioid epidemic ravaging this country, in Washington House and Senate Republicans instead continue their assault on Americans living through this crisis. The health care legislation being advanced in the Senate would strip Medicaid funding used for drug treatment services that save lives and keep families intact.

Now is not the time to cut funding for opioid treatment. Our nation is facing an unprecedented crisis. Drugs are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, resulting in the first decline in American life expectancy since 1993.

On an average day in the United States, pharmacists dispense more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions, 3,900 people begin non-medical use of prescription opioids, 580 people start using heroin and 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose.

And yet, instead of scaling up the response, Senate Republicans propose that we do less — much less. Their health care bill would have devastating consequences for many of our most vulnerable, including those with preexisting conditions. Their proposed cuts to Medicaid funding used to combat the opioid epidemic constitute a heartless attack on people who need help.

In New York, federal, state and local Medicaid funding makes up two-thirds of our yearly budget for substance use programs — nearly $800 million of a total $1.2 billion, funds that enabled us to treat 234,000 people for substance use in 2016 alone. Cutting Medicaid would devastate our ability to treat those who need help battling an opioid addiction, through treatment, crisis, detox and counseling services.

The legislation in its current form would phase out federal funds states like ours use to expand eligibility for Medicaid and slash billions of dollars from Medicaid, meanwhile giving our nation’s wealthiest a massive tax cut. The bill would eliminate $772 billion from Medicaid over 10 years nationwide. In New York, repeal and replace as passed by the House of Representatives would result in a loss of approximately $6.9 billion in federal funds over the next four years.

While the Republican health care bill includes $2 billion for opioid treatment, and may add as much as $45 billion over 10 years, this funding is nowhere near enough. Money for opioid treatment alone, without Medicaid expansion, can only address the tip of the iceberg of this epidemic. Many rely on Medicaid coverage in order to access treatment at all — so access to these programs would be dramatically reduced. In our state, this is unacceptable.

Deaths resulting from drug overdose increased 20% between 2014 and 2015 to more than 2,300 in one year in New York — more than twice the number of motor vehicle fatalities .

Overdose deaths in New York City alone have steadily increased for each of the past six years. In 2016, there were 1,374 unintentional drug overdose deaths in New York City — nearly four each day. If this bill or anything like it passes Congress, families will feel the painful effects on access to life-saving treatment.

While Republicans in Washington may have forgotten the human cost of cutting Medicaid funding, we in New York have not. We know that the answer to drug addiction is not judgment, neglect, and punishment, but compassion and treatment.

New York State does not look away from those in need; New York State comes to their aid. That is the New York way.

I applaud our New York delegation and states across the nation that are fighting to stem the terrible tide of this epidemic. Together, we stand up for the afflicted, and stand against those who seek to afflict them further.

Despite the White House’s insistence that this is a health care bill with “heart,” we see that it is in fact heartless. They say that when it comes to health care, nobody is going to be totally happy. We say that when it comes to those who are the most in need, none can be ignored.

Members of the New York congressional delegation must do everything in their power to stop this bill from crippling New York’s ability to combat the worsening opioid crisis, and members around the country must do the same in their own states. The lives of thousands depend on it. The time is now, in the states and in Washington, to combat the scourge with all we’ve got.

This op-ed appeared earlier this week in the New York Daily News.