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Proposed Medicaid Cuts Threaten Addiction Treatment In Connecticut

health care providers
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Health care providers at InterCommunity Health Care in Hartford joined U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and state officials who said proposed federal cuts to the Medicaid program will impact local addiction treatment and resources, Tues., Feb. 18, 2020.

Connecticut advocates for addiction treatment say proposed funding cuts to the federal Medicaid program would leave fewer resources for people with substance use disorders.

The proposed cuts are part of President Donald Trump’s federal budget plan, which was released earlier this month. It includes cuts to Medicaid, a program that provides health coverage for people in poverty, and the Affordable Care Act totaling about $1 trillion in the next decade. 

“Addiction is a disease. It is treatable with the right resources,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday. “The right resources require investment, and sadly, the federal government is cutting investment in one of the absolutely essential programs to help treat the disease of opioid addiction.”

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of federal survey data, Medicaid covered nearly 4 in 10 adults with opioid use disorder in 2017.

Kim Beauregard, president and CEO at InterCommunity Health Care, said federal coverage allows community health providers to implement a complex and costly array of health care services for people with limited income.

“We, as a safety net organization, we’re barely making it now,” said Beauregard. “We have great business plans and we’re a great business, but we have such great numbers of people who need so much help,” she said. “People are coming in who are homeless, who are experiencing all other difficulties or primary care issues, poverty ... it just feels like people who are making these decisions do not know what’s going on in the real world here.”

InterCommunity Health Care provides primary care, mental health and addiction treatment throughout Greater Hartford to about 10,000 people each year. A significant portion of patients and clients rely on Medicaid for their care, Beauregard said.

The proposed cuts come at a bad time for Connecticut, which just saw a rise in accidental overdose deaths last year, said Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

A record 1,200 people died, and a majority of cases involved a type of opioid, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“The recent announcement of the rise in accidental overdose deaths in our state last year was heartbreaking to hear,” Delphin-Rittmon said. “Each of those lives lost not only represent an individual who lost their battle to addiction, but they also represent a family whose brother, sister, father or mother will no longer be with them.” 

Credit Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services speaks about funding for substance use disorder treatment at InterCommunity Health Care in Hartford, Tues., Feb. 18, 2020.

Delphin-Rittmon said federal resources thus far have helped Connecticut boost its supply of naloxone, the overdose reversal medication, and get it to emergency departments, state agencies and community organizations.

“Federal resources have also allowed us to significantly increase access to addiction services, including medication-assisted treatment, which we know is a gold standard to addressing opioid use disorder,” she added.

Blumenthal pledged to fight the proposed cuts. He said the government should actually invest more money in Medicaid and other programs that address the nationwide addiction crisis, not less.

“For states across the country, there would be a huge gap in the funding for treatment of substance use disorder,” he said. “Those numbers are going to be impossible to make up for most states, and for Connecticut, it is going to be a significant burden.”

While he couldn’t pinpoint exactly how much Connecticut stands to lose in Medicaid funding under the proposed budget, Blumenthal said fewer resources for this population of people would create problems in other areas as well.

“If you don’t pay now, you pay later in homelessness, in crime, in all kinds of ways that are vastly more costly,” he said. “So it’s an investment in health care that prevents larger costs later.”

Congress will review the proposed federal budget during the next couple of months. The final version will likely see substantial changes from the president’s wish list.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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