Opi­oid funds used to at­tract votes to re­peal Oba­macare

Re­pub­li­can lead­ers aim to re­as­sure sen­a­tors

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans are dan­gling bil­lions of dol­lars in opi­oid-fight­ing funds to try to en­tice wary mod­er­ates to sign onto their Oba­macare re­peal bill, look­ing to ink a fi­nal com­pro­mise.

Sen. Shel­ley Moore Capito, West Vir­ginia Re­pub­li­can, said she is look­ing for a $45 bil­lion com­mit­ment over a 10-year pe­riod to make sure ad­dicts in her hard-hit state will be able to get treat­ment un­der the Re­pub­li­can health care model, which would phase out Oba­macare’s vast ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid cov­er­age for the poor.

“It’s ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to my state. We’ve got huge prob­lems,” said Ms. Capito, whose been out­spo­ken about the prescription painkiller and heroin prob­lem that is dev­as­tat­ing the U.S., par­tic­u­larly in swaths of Ap­palachia and New Eng­land.

As Re­pub­li­can lead­ers look to build sup­port for the health care over­haul they are writ­ing be­hind closed doors, they are try­ing to re­as­sure sen­a­tors who fear vul­ner­a­ble con­stituents would lose ac­cess to care.

The amount Ms. Capito and Sen. Rob Port­man of Ohio are seek­ing to fight opi­oid ad­dic­tion is equiv­a­lent to the $4.5 bil­lion per year that would be cut from treat­ment if Congress scrapped the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at Har­vard and New York Univer­sity.

Throw­ing ex­tra money to as­suage con­cerns is stan­dard leg­is­lat­ing. House Re­pub­li­can lead­ers were able to get their health care bill over the fin­ish line last month by in­ject­ing an ex­tra $8 bil­lion for cer­tain states to sub­si­dize the costs of sicker cus­tomers who could pay more.

It’s not clear how many Se­nate votes could be earned with ad­di­tional money for opi­oid ad­dic­tion treat­ment or if it would even be a part of the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion.

Pres­i­dent Trump met with 15 sen­a­tors at the White House on Tues­day to push them to fin­ish the job, though he stopped short of ask­ing for a spe­cific dead­line.

“As soon as we can do it,” Mr. Trump said. On Capi­tol Hill, Democrats are com­plain­ing about the bill-writ­ing process, say­ing Repub­li­cans are hid­ing their leg­is­lat­ing from the pub­lic.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Re­pub­li­can, de­fended the push to skip hear­ings and move the bill — even­tu­ally — straight to a vote. He said the is­sue has been de­bated for seven years.

“We’ll let you see the bill when we fi­nally re­lease it,” Mr. McCon­nell told re­porters. “No­body’s hid­ing the ball here. You’re free to ask any­body any­thing.”

Yet Democrats say Repub­li­cans are try­ing to ob­fus­cate changes to Oba­macare that could leave cer­tain pop­u­la­tions worse off, in­clud­ing older Amer­i­cans who don’t yet qual­ify for Medi­care.

The fight seeped into what was billed as bi­par­ti­san ex­er­cise — a hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor and Pen­sions on how to slash prescription drug prices.

“Let’s be blunt. It is in­sane to pre­tend to have a bi­par­ti­san hear­ing on low­er­ing drug prices when right now, to­day, 13 Repub­li­cans are writ­ing a se­cret bill to kick 23 mil­lion peo­ple off health in­sur­ance and their prescription drug ben­e­fits. And we can’t even get a look at it,” said Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat.

Mr. Trump pointed the fin­ger back at Democrats, say­ing they were hold­ing up his over­haul, even though Repub­li­cans are work­ing un­der fast-track bud­get rules that al­low them to cut the mi­nor­ity party out of the process.

“You have the Democrats on the other side who have truly be­come ob­struc­tion­ists — even their new motto: ‘Re­sist.’ And I guess it’s a pretty ac­cu­rate motto,” he told Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

Still, it’s Repub­li­cans who are try­ing to bal­ance com­pet­ing in­ter­ests.

The Club for Growth, a con­ser­va­tive pres­sure group, said Tues­day that the Se­nate bill must re­duce pre­mi­ums even fur­ther than the House ver­sion and should scrap Oba­macare’s ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid and all of its taxes.

Yet Repub­li­cans such as Ms. Capito, Mr. Port­man and Dean Heller of Ne­vada are look­ing for a more grad­ual phase­out of gen­er­ous fed­eral fund­ing that their states used to ex­pand Med­i­caid for the poor, say­ing they would like to avoid an abrupt “cliff” in 2020, when the House bill would freeze the ex­pan­sion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Re­pub­li­can Shel­ley Moore Capito is look­ing for a $45 bil­lion com­mit­ment to en­sure treat­ment for opi­oid ad­dicts in her hard-hit state of West Vir­ginia.

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