CHN: House and Senate Pass Conference Bill to Fight Opioid Crisis

On September 28, the House overwhelmingly passed (393-8) the conferenced version of H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, and the Senate followed suit (98-1) on October 3. This bipartisan bill, which combines 58 bills legislators have passed over the previous months, is intended to help fight our nation’s growing opioid epidemic. The House first passed (396-14) its version of the bill on June 22; the Senate followed (99-1) on September 17, after making amendments to the bill. Later in September, the conference committee, composed of members of the two chambers, resolved differences between the two bills and came to an agreement on final legislation.

Advocates across the spectrum support the bill and applaud Congress for taking action on such a serious epidemic. Over 700,000 people in the United States have died of drug overdoses since the 1990s; more than 72,000 drug-related deaths occurred last year alone, and at least two-thirds of these deaths were due to opioids. 2017 recorded the highest number of Americans killed by drug overdoses in a single year, an annual U.S. death toll higher than those caused by car crashes, guns, or HIV/AIDS. At this rate, experts predict that opioid overdoses could claim hundreds of thousands of lives in the next decade.

Multiple advocates, health-related groups, and stakeholders, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Advocates for Opioid Recovery, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, voiced their support for the bicameral bill. The bill makes several changes to Medicaid and Medicare to address opioid substance use and disorders and the expansion of access and coverage. It also addresses alternatives to opioid use for pain treatment, a shift to evidence-based treatment, and the reduction of illegal drugs entering the country through the mail. Other notable provisions include: expansion of Medicaid coverage for former foster youth under age 26 and for juveniles transitioning out of incarceration; student loan forgiveness for practitioners in substance use disorder fields; increase and improved access to buprenorphine, a form of medication-assisted treatment; and increase funding and support for family residential programs and reunification projects. For more information on the original House version of the bill, see the July 2 Human Needs Report.

Several Democrats, such as Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), praised the bill as a good first step in addressing our nation’s opioid epidemic, but assert that much more needs to be done, particularly increasing funding. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act projects to cost around $8 billion, a sum that falls short of the tens of billions experts say is required to quickly reverse the opioid epidemic. In contrast, the CARE Act, proposed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and modeled after the Ryan White program for combating HIV/AIDS, would provide $100 billion over 10 years to fight the opioid crisis. In a statement, Families USA’s Executive Director Frederick Isasi said, “Families USA supports H.R. 6, but we hope that Congress views it as simply the down payment on more comprehensive legislation in the near future.”

opioid crisis