WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has overwhelmingly approved legislation designed to give health care providers more tools to stem an opioid crisis that is killing more than 115 people in the United States daily.
The legislation passed Friday by a vote of 396-14. It incorporates dozens of opioid-related bills that lawmakers have made a campaign-season priority.
In urging the passage of the bill, many lawmakers told personal stories about how opioid abuse has affected constituents, family and friends. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told the story of his press secretary, Erin Perrine, whose brother, Eamon, died of a drug overdose in 2016. McCarthy said she learned of his death just weeks before her wedding.
“Let that be a lesson to us all: There is no event so joyful, no place so safe, that it is untouched by the drug crisis,” McCarthy said.
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The bill passed Friday encourages states to increase coverage of treatment for substance abuse disorders through Medicaid. Foster youth and former prisoners are among the populations targeted for enhanced coverage of their treatment.
The legislation also seeks to expand the use of medications to treat opioid abuse. It would allow more health care providers to treat patients with a drug that reduces risks of overdoses. It adds methadone clinics to the Medicare program. The bill also adds incentive for doctors to use post-surgical injections as a pain-treatment alternative to opioids.
The Medicare changes are testament to the toll the crisis is taking on the elderly, with 300,000 Medicare patients having been diagnosed with opioid addiction.
The White House voiced its support for the House effort, which involved passing dozens of bills in the last two weeks to curb opioid abuse. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders urged the Senate to take the legislation up and “get these lifesaving bills to the president’s desk.” She also said the bills represent “the most significant Congressional effort against a single drug crisis in United States history.”
Democrats voted overwhelmingly for the legislation, but called for more resources. Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey said the bill “does not adequately deal with the magnitude of the crisis that this country is facing.”