With Republicans and Democrats joining forces again in a bipartisan effort to target the U.S. opioid crisis, an Associated Press analysis of the first wave of emergency money from Congress finds that states are taking very different approaches to spending it.
The AP analysis found states that expanded Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health overhaul reported spending their allocations more slowly than states that didn’t expand the health insurance program to poor, childless adults.
Why? In states that expanded Medicaid, the insurance program already covers addiction treatment for nearly everyone who is poor and needs it.
Medicaid allows states to go beyond the basics with the grant money, while non-expansion states have to fill in for basic needs with fewer dollars, said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In effect, Medicaid expansion states had a running start on the opioid crisis, while states without the extra Medicaid funding hastened to catch up.
“Non-expansion states are dealing with populations more likely to be uninsured and more likely to need coverage for addiction treatment,” Saloner said. In contrast, states with Medicaid expansion can use the grants to create new infrastructure, “asking providers to take risks by investing in new personnel, new systems and new ways of doing things,” Saloner said. “The puzzle is how to keep momentum going after the funds are gone.”
The Medicaid insurance expansion gives states a head start because they have “a coordinated, reliable and consistent source of coverage” for a demographic group hit hard by addiction, said Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “It’s not grant funded. It’s not stopgap,” Riley said.
“Coverage matters, period,” Riley said.