Obamacare repeal plan to lift insurance requirements for substance abuse

Three baggies of fentanyl product. (Courtesy: Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative)
Three baggies of fentanyl product. (Courtesy: Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Addicts and the people who treat them are anxiously waiting to see what the U.S. Senate will do after they just postponed a vote on their repeal and replace plan for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The GOP plan would scrap the regulations on private insurance companies that require them to cover substance abuse.

“Ultimately, if we want a market to lower cost while providing better quality care, we have to get the government out of the way,” Senator John Cornyn said on the Senate floor.

His office tells KXAN the Better Care Reconciliation Act creates $2 billion in grants for states to use to combat substance abuse. But some advocates worry that is not enough, especially since the bill scraps the mandatory requirement to cover substance abuse treatment, leaving it to the states and insurance companies to decide.

Jordan Neumann’s addiction began after a doctor prescribed him hydrocodone at the age of 14.

“Really in this area and the surrounding counties, it is super, super prevalent,” said Neumann.

He looked like a normal college student, but eight years later he started pumping heroin and fentanyl into his body. Neumann said he turned to drugs to placate any problems in his life.

“I’m super stressed: drugs. I’m pissed off: drugs,” he described of his past life. He’s been off drugs for 15 months. His health insurance covered substance abuse treatment which allowed him to check into an in-patient facility. He’s now an executive assistant at Sage Recovery and Wellness Center in west Austin.

Neumann is now helping people who were in his position a few years ago.

“The biggest misconception is, not my neighbors, not my community, not my friends,” said Founder of Sage, Tiffany Anschutz.

Anschutz says since Obamacare passed, deductibles rose. While people have to pay more out of pocket, more people were covered for treatment, in fact, it was required. Congress’ new plans scrap that, leaving Anschutz worried.

“A lot of people find us because they turn to their insurance company,” said Anschutz, “if they no longer have that insurance benefit, I don’t know. Are the insurance companies still going to be navigating them to treatment centers and facilities, I don’t know if they will.”

Sen. Cornyn, R-Texas, did co-author the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that is sending $27 million to Texas to fight opioid addiction. Texas’ Junior Senator Ted Cruz is against the current bill because it doesn’t lower premiums far enough. He tells KXAN that he’s witnessed first-hand opioid addiction in his family.

In a statement from his office, Cruz says, “he remains committed to finding solutions to the nation¹s opioid epidemic.”

A vote on the Senate’s bill is expected after the July holiday break.

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