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In Ohio, reaction to Senate health bill based off opioid epidemic

  • Congress-Health-Overhaul-1

    Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pauses for a reporter's question as he arrives at a closed-door GOP strategy session on the Republican health care overhaul with Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.

    SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP

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U.S. Sen. Rob Portman,R-Cincinnati, has yet to decide whether or not to support the version of the health care bill released by his fellow Republican senators Thursday.

“My goal is to create a more workable system that lowers the cost of coverage, provides access to quality care and protects the most vulnerable in our society,” Portman said in a statement. “There are some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic.”

Portman is widely considered one of the moderate GOP senators, many from states that have expanded Medicaid, who are crucial votes to passing a version of the Republican health care bill. Four conservative senators, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, announced Thursday that the bill put out Thursday didn’t go far enough to end Obamacare.

Portman also has been outspoken about the need to treat those addicted to opioids, a sentiment shared by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, who released a statement Thursday blasting the Senate version of a highly criticized version passed by House Republicans earlier this year.

“This bill takes away the No. 1 tool we have in the fight against opioids — Medicaid treatment. We cannot allow Washington to rip the rug out from under Ohio communities,” Brown said. “Instead of raising prices on people over 50 and working families, we should be working together to lower costs, fight the opioid epidemic and make health care work better for everyone.”

Brown’s news release said the bill would end Medicaid expansion, which allows Ohioans to get treatment, and replace it with $2 billion to address the opioid epidemic across the entire country. The release said Ohio spent $939 million on the opioid crisis last year and Medicaid covered 70 percent of that cost.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, who voted against the House version of the bill, called the Senate bill “cruel” in a statement.

“Health care is about life and death. Now that we have a draft bill from the Senate, we know that Medicaid coverage will be heavily cut back. These are lifeline cuts to vital care and services for our children, seniors, those suffering from opioid addiction as well as the disabled and mentally ill,” Kaptur said. “Americans should rise up in resounding protest from coast to coast. Caring for the most fragile and ill among us cannot be left to chance. Is not life itself a right of citizenship in our great nation?”

A request for comment from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, wasn’t returned Thursday, while a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, said it “wouldn’t be prudent to comment” because of possible changes to the Senate bill.

A Congressional Budget Office examination of the House bill estimated that it would cost as many as 23 million Americans their health insurance in the coming years. The CBO has yet to release its analysis of the Senate version, something Portman said he is eager to review.

“I look forward to examining this new proposal carefully and reviewing the analysis by the Congressional Budget Office when it is available,” Portman said. “If the final legislation is good for Ohio, I will support it. If not, I will oppose it.”

In a report released Thursday, Policy Matters Ohio said that a review by the Center for Community Solutions estimated that if the Medicaid cuts proposed by the House went into effect, Ohio would have to come up with between $6.4 billion and $8.5 billion through 2025 to make up the difference.

In Lorain County, the report said, the cuts would be between $327.9 million and $448.7 million between 2019 and 2025.

The House bill would begin phasing out Medicaid expansion by 2020, while the Senate version would delay it until 2023, but Wendy Patton, a senior policy director at Policy Matters Ohio, said that just delays rather than changes the outcome.

“Repealing the Medicaid expansion would be a disaster,” Dr. Matthew Noordsij-Jones of the Community Health Center in Dayton said.

Steve Wagner, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, said the shortfalls to Ohio would be significant.

“It’s not surprising that this was has been kept secret, It’s meaner than the House bill,” Wagner said in a conference call with reporters Thursday sponsored by Policy Matters Ohio.

Noordsij-Jones said cutting Medicaid would be bad for patients and the bottom lines of companies providing medical services. He said undoing Obamacare could make getting sick impossible for many Ohioans to handle financially.

Under the current law, he said, “people can take care of their medical issues without going bankrupt.”

In addition to the prospect of Ohioans losing health insurance, those on the call also worried about what the impact would be on jobs in the health care sector if some version of the Republican bill passed.

The Policy Matters Ohio report also pointed to an Economic Policy Institute analysis from March that estimated the lag in job growth if the House version of the bill went through.

In Kaptur’s congressional district, that report said, the lag would be 6,818 jobs, while in Jordan’s the figure would be 4,680 jobs. Gibbs’ district would see 4,614 jobs if the House version passed, the study said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.



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