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Congress set to tackle opioid legislation

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Committees in both chambers are considering legislation addressing opioid addiction and treatment 

Congress is set to move forward on multiple pieces of opioid-related legislation as lawmakers return from a two-week recess.

On April 11, Senate lawmakers on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee considered a discussion draft of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which contains wide-ranging measures to help federal agencies address the crisis by improving access to telemedicine, increasing treatment services in areas with health provider shortages and establishing prescription limits on opioids.

Some of the proposals contained in the legislation follow up on programs originally outlined as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-198), known as CARA, which passed into law with NACo’s support.

On April 11 and 12, the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee held a two-day hearing focused on the opioid epidemic. During the hearing, members on the committee also considered a total of 34 legislative proposals to combat the crisis via changes to Medicaid and Medicare. Many of these proposals focus on expanding patients’ access to Medicaid and Medicare-eligible addiction and recovery services.

NACo has endorsed two bills set for consideration by the Energy and Commerce Committee. The first piece of legislation, H.R. 4004, the Medicaid Reentry Act, would allow jail inmates to receive federal Medicaid benefits for the 30-day period prior to their release, rather than becoming unenrolled while they are in jail. The second bill, H.R. 1925, the At-Risk Youth Medicaid Protection Act, would allow faster access to addiction treatment services for juveniles released from county correctional facilities, thereby reducing the risk of overdose death. These measures would help counties provide effective treatment and care coordination services pre-and post-release, allowing for smoother transitions to community care.

The bundle of proposals also contains a measure that would ease the Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion barring treatment facilities with more than 16 beds from receiving Medicaid funds. NACo has long supported and prioritized federal legislative or regulatory changes that would alleviate the IMD exclusion.

It remains unclear whether the House will combine the separate bills into a broader legislative package or consider proposals individually. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) indicated the House would attempt to pass opioid-related legislation by late May.

Congress’ consideration of opioid legislation this week comes shortly after lawmakers authorized approximately $6 billion in funds to address the opioid epidemic over two years as part of the budget agreement approved in February.

The FY 2018 omnibus bill, which passed in March 2018, specifically allocated opioid funding across multiple federal agencies and programs and contained a $2 billion increase in federal funds to address the epidemic above FY2017 levels. 

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