Feds make case to GOP governors: Expand Medicaid to tackle addiction

Feds make case to GOP governors: Expand Medicaid to tackle addiction

The Obama administration is redoubling its call for holdout states to expand Medicaid amid growing worries nationwide about opioid use and mental health.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a report Monday that makes the case for the 19 remaining states — 18 of which are led by Republican governors — to accept the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare to help people fighting addiction and other mental health problems.

“As we talk to states, both on the Republican and Democratic side, behavioral health inevitably comes up as a topic of discussion,” Richard Frank, HHS assistant secretary, said during a briefing Monday. “We thought it was a good time to be injecting some new facts into that discussion.”

The department’s 17-page report, which compiles years of research, cites one study that found low-income adults with a serious mental illness “are 30 percent more likely to seek treatment if they have Medicaid coverage.”

Another study found that 371,000 fewer people would face depression if they had access to care under Medicaid.

About 2 million poor, uninsured people are living with a mental illness or addiction in the 19 states that have rejected the expansion, according to the report. “Many will gain access to coverage only if their states expand Medicaid,” the report says.  

Frank, who said he has spent his career studying mental health and addiction, said the issue has “particular significance” to him, and urged state officials to take action.

“It will bring people into effective treatment and it is fully paid for under the Affordable Care Act” he said.

Expanding Medicaid is one of the Obama administration's biggest remaining challenges as it looks to keep lowering the uninsured rate.

Many of those who remain uninsured fall in a coverage gap, where they make too little to qualify for tax credits but are just above the current eligibility for Medicaid — unless they live in the 32 states that have agreed to the ObamaCare provision that brings a windfall of federal dollars to expand coverage.

Some Republican governors, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is also a presidential contender, have agreed to the expansion.  

But most conservative lawmakers remain fiercely opposed to the additional Medicaid spending, arguing that the costs would balloon over time when the federal government reduced its cost-sharing of the program.

The remaining states that have rejected expansion includes Virginia, with a Democratic governor and a GOP legislature, and other states like Tennessee and Florida, in which a Republican governor has clashed with a GOP-controlled legislature over the expansion.