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Let Medicaid pay for more drug treatment, AG Josh Shapiro urges Congress

Wes Venteicher
| Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, 5:39 p.m.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Attorney General Josh Shapiro

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 38 other attorneys general urged Congress in a letter Monday to undo a rule that blocks some drug treatment centers from being paid by Medicaid.

The group of government attorneys asked Congress to undo a 1965 law that prevents treatment centers with more than 16 beds from being paid by Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care for poor and disabled people.

The authors said the law restricts treatment access amid an opioid crisis that killed up to 65,000 Americans last year. In Pennsylvania, 4,642 people died from drug overdoses last year.

“If we have any hope of reversing this terrible trend, we need every treatment option at our disposal,” wrote the authors, led by Shapiro and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and signed by a bipartisan group of their counterparts.

The letter urged members of Congress to support a bill introduced in June by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks County, that the attorneys said would remove the “unnecessary restriction” on which treatment centers can receive Medicaid payments. The bill remains under consideration by a health subcommittee, according to a congressional website.

The 1965 law was meant to discourage use of state-run mental asylums, according to the letter. The legislation would keep the restriction in place for mental health institutions, the letter states.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” the letter states, noting that many addictions begin with prescribed medicines.

Shapiro is part of a group of attorneys general who are investigating the roles of opioid manufacturers and distributors in the epidemic, and he has publicized crackdowns on drug dealers in the state.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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