Want to end the opioid epidemic? Start by freezing Medicaid expansion
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Last week, the Ohio Senate opted to freeze the state’s massive ObamaCare Medicaid expansion, ending new enrollment after July 1, 2018. This budget provision — which is now being negotiated with the Ohio House — has the potential to positively change the fate of hundreds of thousands of truly vulnerable Ohioans, including those struggling against a drug epidemic that is ravaging the state.

Ohio’s proposed Medicaid expansion freeze would stop massive cost overruns due to skyrocketing enrollment. The Kasich administration promised that the program would not exceed 447,000 able-bodied, working-age adults; as of last month, enrollment has surpassed 725,000.

The surge has led to out-of-control costs. The latest data show the program at $7 billion over budget and that number is expected to increase to $8 billion by the end of the year. And since the Ohio legislature can’t spend the same dollar twice, that means less funding for education, public safety, and other priorities.

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There were no signs of slowing enrollment and lowering costs — until now.

 

The proposed freeze would help more than 300,000 Ohio citizens regain their independence—in just the first year. Over the next five years, 500,000 Ohioans would be freed from the welfare trap, with the opportunity to truly prosper.

But the freeze would also bring positive change to a system that desperately needs it. Ohio currently has tens of thousands of developmentally- and intellectually-disabled individuals on its Medicaid waiting list. Freezing enrollment would protect resources for these truly needy Ohioans and free up taxpayer dollars to fight the drug epidemic coursing through Ohio’s communities.

ObamaCare proponents who claim that Medicaid expansion is necessary to fight drug abuse ignore one simple fact — as Ohio’s ObamaCare Medicaid expansion has increased, so has Ohio’s problem with opioid use. Ohio is one of the top seven states with the highest number of drug overdose deaths and the state alone is on track to have more overdose deaths in 2017 than the entire United States had in 1990.

The relationship between ObamaCare expansion and drug overdoses isn’t just a chance coincidence. A 2009 study by the CDC found that “opioid prescribing rates among Medicaid enrollees are at least twofold higher than rates for persons with private insurance.”

And even more disturbingly, the same study found that a person on Medicaid was nearly six times more likely to die of an opioid-drug related death than someone not on Medicaid.

Policymakers in Ohio – like those in New York, Rhode Island, Maine and West Virginia – have begun to recognize this perilous relationship and have enacted some measures to make it more difficult to prescribe opioids to Medicaid recipients.

But more needs to be done to end this drug epidemic — and the freeze on ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion would be a great start.

The Ohio legislature now has an opportunity to change the course of Ohio’s future, and the future of hundreds of thousands of the state’s citizens, for the better. The decision to freeze ObamaCare enrollment will have massive positive implications for residents of the state. Leadership must follow through to ensure Ohioans receive the long-awaited solutions they deserve.

Sam Adolphsen is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.