On the last day of the annual GOP retreat at the Greenbrier Resort last week, two West Virginia congressmen said combating the opioid epidemic is a top priority for federal legislators. The press conference came a day after about 500 people gathered at the gates of the resort to advocate for programs like Medicaid and community health center funding.
Evan Jenkins opened Friday’s press conference by describing the scope of the opioid crisis both in West Virginia and nationally and what Congress is doing to tackle it.
“We are putting more money into issues of high intensity drug trafficking and drug free communities and drug courts across the board,” Jenkins said. “We have put literally billions of dollars to tackle this most challenging issue.”
Representative David McKinley said evidence shows rural America has been hardest hit by the opioid crisis, but part of the problem with treating it is that rural states aren’t getting approved for the grants they need.
“The epicenter of this problem, where we needed the money to be able to do it, the federal government failed to participate,” McKinley said.
McKinley pointed to programs like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act as legislation that will help mitigate the crisis. Both bills were signed into law under President Obama’s administration.
“We need in West Virginia and in areas in rural parts of this country to make sure we get some portion of those grants because that’s where the problem primarily is,” McKinley said.
But for others, the problem isn’t grant allocation as much as proposed changes to large-scale safety net programs like Medicaid.
“The folks that are trying to get clean, the folks that want rehabilitation, they are doing so through Medicaid dollars,” said Sammi Brown, federal campaigns director for Our Children, Our Future. “If we are cutting Medicaid, both statewide and federally, guess who loses out? So if you’re really after a pro-life agenda, if you are looking to really rehabilitate individuals, if you are saying you care about us then you need to make sure that that program in and of itself, just by itself, is preserved, taken care of and fully funded.”
The Trump administration has begun giving states more flexibility in running their Medicaid programs. Indiana started charging Medicaid recipients premiums under the Obama administration and both Kentucky and Indiana have been granted the ability to impose work requirements for those in the program.
West Virginia officials said the state is in the planning stages to apply for the right to impose work requirements, but there will be a public comment period before submission. Jenkins and McKinley did not address these proposed changes in their comments.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.