Republicans Blame Medicaid For Contributing To Opioid Epidemic
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some Republicans in Congress have identified a new factor contributing to the opioid epidemic. They blame Medicaid expansion funded by the Affordable Care Act for giving people greater access to prescription drugs. Republican Senator Ron Johnson held a hearing about this yesterday.
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RON JOHNSON: I'm not saying this is the primary cause. I think what we are certainly saying is this is an unintended consequence. It's, you know, certainly a contributing factor. It maybe enables something that maybe shouldn't be enabled, and it's a very serious problem that has to be taken a look at.
MARTIN: Based on that reasoning, a handful of Republicans across the country have opposed funding or expanding Medicaid. One of them is Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. And on the line now, a reporter who's been covering this story in Louisiana - her name is Julia O'Donoghue. She is a reporter with The Times-Picayune based in Baton Rouge.
Julia, thanks for being with us.
JULIA O'DONOGHUE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Could you just start off by explaining more about Jeff Landry's argument? How does he say Medicaid fuels the opioid epidemic?
O'DONOGHUE: So Attorney General Landry's argument is that there has been a rise in prescriptions in general. He hasn't actually identified a rise in opioid prescriptions per se, and we can get to that later. But there have been more prescriptions issued through Medicaid in general since our governor expanded or adopted Medicaid expansion. And I guess he presumes because there are more prescriptions for prescription drugs, you know, circulating in Louisiana that that is exacerbating the opioid crisis.
MARTIN: It would seem to me, though, that that is an important data point, whether or not opioid prescriptions have gone up.
O'DONOGHUE: Correct. And actually, the Louisiana Department of Health can point to data that shows that opioid prescriptions in the state have actually dropped by about 2 percent and the number of opioid pills being prescribed has dropped as well since Medicaid expansion went into effect in July of 2016. Now, Louisiana adopted some new restrictions on opioid prescriptions around the same time that Medicaid expansion came into play, and it may be that because of those new restrictions that we're seeing fewer opioid pills prescribed and fewer prescriptions. But the data seems to suggest that what Attorney Jeff Landry is implying is not correct (laughter).
MARTIN: So the data just doesn't back up his claims according to your reporting.
O'DONOGHUE: Correct, yeah.
MARTIN: So in Louisiana, what is next for Medicaid? Will the attorney general there be able to roll it back?
O'DONOGHUE: No. In Louisiana, Medicaid expansion was something the governor could do without either the legislature or someone like the attorney general calling the shots. So he was able to kind of do it unilaterally. And I think once it's in place, it's kind of hard to roll back. Louisiana has a high Medicaid population. One in 3 of our residents is covered by Medicaid.
MARTIN: All right. Julia O'Donoghue - she's a reporter with The Times-Picayune. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.
O'DONOGHUE: Thank you.
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