Congress reaches consensus on opioid epidemic legislation package

The House and Senate have reached a consensus on a legislation package aimed at the opioid crisis, setting the stage to swiftly send a bill to the president’s desk. 

The two chambers of Congress each passed individual bipartisan bills before coming together to hammer out a joint package (PDF). A vote on the legislation is expected in short order. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in an announcement that the bill tackles muliple priorities on opioids, including: 

  1. Hindering the importation of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
  2. Bolstering state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to prevent abusers from “doctor shopping” to obtain drugs.
  3. Fast-tracking research on non-addictive alternative painkillers.
  4. Providing additional support to babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their mothers.
  5. Extending Medicaid coverage to enrollees seeking treatment from 15 to 30 days. 

“This legislation represents the work of eight committees in the House and five committees in the Senate who have worked together to reach consensus about how to help address the opioid crisis, which is affecting virtually every American community,” Alexander said. 

“There is bipartisan urgency in both of our chambers to pass this consensus legislation so the president can sign it as soon as possible,” he added. 

RELATED: HHS urging providers to use telemedicine for medication-assisted opioid treatment 

President Donald Trump has not yet weighed in on the opioid package, but he’s likely to sign it, as the issue is a key focus for his administration. In a speech at the United Nations earlier this week, Trump said that world leaders need to band together to defeat “the scourge of drug addiction,” USA Today reported

“If we take these steps together, we can save the lives of countless people in all corners of the world,” Trump said. “All of us must work together to dismantle drug production and defeat drug addiction.”

Trump did not specify steps world leaders should follow, according to USA Today. 

One element excluded from the consensus version of the bill is an update to the 42 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2, a decades-old privacy statute that some say can hinder care coordination. Healthcare organizations have called on Congress to address the Part 2 regulations in their ongoing opioid efforts. 

The Partnership to Amend 42 CFR Part 2, a group of more than 40 healthcare organizations dedicated to aligning the Part 2 measure with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare that the omission is a disappointment. 

“Modernizing Part essential for providing safe, high-quality treatment and care coordination,” the group said. 

RELATED: New HIPAA guidance clarifies data sharing for mental health and substance abuse patients 

Making a real dent in the opioid epidemic, though, will require legislators to pass long-term solutions instead of addressing the issue in pieces, Steve Beshear, who served as governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015, said at an event on the crisis held Wednesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

He said the response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s could serve as a guideline for taking bigger steps, instead of tackling the issue “year-by-year" at budget time. 

“We’ve really got to put our money where our mouth is,” Beshear said.