U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter today to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to draw his attention to the ongoing opioid crisis in Florida.
Nelson asked the secretary whether expanding Medicaid in Florida would help the state provide additional treatment to those addicted to opioids. And, on the other hand, whether cutting Medicaid through the use of block grants would affect the state’s ability to provide such treatment.
“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.”
Below is the full text of Nelson’s letter, and a PDF copy can be found here.
April 18, 2017
Thomas Price, M.D.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Price,
I am writing to draw your attention to an issue that is devastating Florida and encourage your agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.
Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014.
The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.
In addition to the devastating loss of life, heroin and opioid abuse is also straining local budgets. In February, the Vice-Mayor of Palm Beach County sent a letter to the Governor of Florida urging him to declare a public health emergency, citing the loss of life and financial impact to the County. According to the County medical examiner’s office, nearly 600 people died of opioid overdose in Palm Beach County alone last year – nearly twice as many as in 2015.
In 2016, Congress approved legislation to take a comprehensive approach to opioid abuse, and a few months ago, we approved additional funding to start implementing this crucial new law right away.
Given that opioid abuse is a growing problem across the nation, and especially in Florida, I would appreciate your response to the following:
1. As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders. Do you support these cuts to the Medicaid program through block grants, caps, or other proposals? If those cuts are made, how do you propose states like Florida provide the necessary services to help individuals with substance use disorder?
2. Thirty-one states have already expanded their Medicaid program to cover individuals with annual incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $30,000 for a family of three). Unfortunately, Florida has decided not to expand its Medicaid program, leaving more than 800,000 Floridians without access to affordable health care, including an estimated 309,000 low-income Floridians with mental health and substance use disorders. According to a study by Harvard University and New York University, Medicaid expansion provides drug treatment to nearly 1.3 million Americans. If Florida expanded its Medicaid program, would it be able to increase access to treatment for those with opioid use disorder? And would expanding Medicaid help the state avoid the rising costs associated with the opioid crisis and mental health needs?
I appreciate your prompt attention to this urgent matter.