We are all familiar with the devastating effects the opioid epidemic is having on our country — tens of thousands of lives lost each year, untold burdens on our health care system and billions of dollars in lost economic potential.
This epidemic has pervaded all populations, including our seniors. Medicare beneficiaries have among the highest and fastest growing rates of opioid use disorder, yet they do not currently have coverage for the most effective treatment.
The SUPPORT Act, specifically section 207 which I helped author, would change that. This bill, which recently passed the House, provides for a fully coordinated, bundled care model that will help patients in their entire continuum of care in receiving the best current treatment for opioid addiction.
It does so by expanding Medicare coverage to include Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) for the purposes of delivering Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which combines the use of medication with counseling, group therapy and drug testing.
Currently, OTPs are not recognized as Medicare providers. This means Medicare beneficiaries receiving MAT at OTPs for their opioid use disorders must pay out of pocket. In 13 states, the highest rate of opioid-related inpatient stays is in the 65-and-over population. That is alarming. However, under this new law, Medicare will be able to cover life-saving Medication Assisted Treatment for our seniors.
Just this month, the National Institutes of Health released a study that found delivering Medication Assisted Treatment to patients following an opioid overdose dropped the death rate by 59 percent.
President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis summed up the value of Medication Assisted Treatment, finding that this treatment option has proven “to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin, reduce relapse, and prevent spread of infectious disease.”
But the best evidence for MAT comes from the stories on the ground. For example, Jeff from my home state of North Carolina became dependent on opioids after a difficult back surgery. He initially tried to stop cold but went into withdrawal and relapsed. Fortunately, Jeff was able to receive treatment from the Goldsboro Comprehensive Treatment Center, where he went through counseling, his progress was monitored, and monthly drug screens kept him accountable. He now says his life has changed for the better 100 percent.
Every Member of the House has constituents just like Jeff who have struggled with addiction but can regain their life with the right treatment.
While there is no silver bullet to this crisis, we need to ensure patients and doctors have all options at their disposal to combat the opioid epidemic.
• Rep. George Holding, North Carolina Republican, serves on the House Ways & Means Committee.
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