Senate Finance Committee advances massive opioid package targeting Medicare, Medicaid

Orrin Hatch
The new legislation is aimed at curbing opioid overprescribing and increasing treatment for substance abuse. (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Legislation aimed at combating the opioid crisis is slowly but surely making its way through the Senate after a powerful committee unanimously approved a massive package. 

However, it wasn't completely "kumbaya" during the markup.

After months of hearings and debate, the Senate Committee on Finance finally has a finished legislative package aimed at curbing opioid overprescribing and increasing treatment for substance abuse.

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Provisions in the package, marked up during a Tuesday hearing, are mostly tailored to Medicare and Medicaid and include:

  • increasing educational information on opioid use and pain management in Medicare handbooks
  • removing geographic limitations for the use of telehealth in treating substance abuse disorder
  • allowing additional screening for substance abuse disorders during annual Medicare "wellness" visits
  • standardizing electronic prior authorizations under Part D
  • allowing states to cover residential pediatric recovery services under Medicaid for infants and their mothers
  • removing Medicaid lifetime limits on medication-assisted treatment (MIT) for substance abuse disorders

Leaders from both parties praised the package and the bipartisan work that led to it. 

RELATED: CMS urges states to better utilize Medicaid to treat opioid-addicted infants

“This strong, bipartisan legislation makes meaningful progress toward addressing the opioid crisis facing our nation,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee chairman said. "In a time of great political divide, I am pleased we could come together to craft legislation to address such a critical issue.”

However, the hearing wasn't without some partisan theatrics and jabbing

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., cried foul at state Republicans' lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration recently said it supports. The Department of Justice said last week the law's pre-existing condition protections are unconstitutional and must be struck down, which one Democratic senator on the Finance Committee found counterproductive to opioid relief efforts. 

"Addiction is a pre-existing condition," the Florida senator said. "We don't want to deny insurance coverage for that." 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently approved legislation to help reduce opioid use and improve treatment for substance abusers as well. The 32 House bills include demonstration programs and improved telehealth access for treatment.

Further debate is nearly guaranteed within and between the chambers before final legislation is agreed upon.