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I need this treatment: Recovering addicts tell Murray, DelBene importance of Medicaid

SEATTLE — If Medicaid is taken away, I don’t know if I can still get help.

That’s the message Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene heard from recovering opioid addicts Friday in Seattle.

“I had a physical and mental addiction to heroin, which led me to my first treatment program,” recovering addict Angelina Martain said. “The thought that I could get into a program, the fact that I could find help was so amazing. It was because of my insurance, because of Medicaid.”

The lawmakers toured Swedish Hospital’s Pain Management Center in effort to learn about the opioid addiction plaguing Washington state, and to rally against a Republican health care bill that would cut $700 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years.

“What Congress is doing is debating and trying to repeal Obamacare, rather than focusing on what the real issues are for most people,” Murray said. “Which is access to health care and the cost of health care.”

Cuts to addiction treatment options buoyed by Medicaid took center stage at a time when the crisis has reached historic heights.  In 2016, drug overdoses killed more Americans than the entire wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Two Washingtonians die each day in this state, doctors at Swedish said, with rural and isolated regions being hit the hardest.

“The opioid addiction crisis has been really centrifugal,” Dr. Jim Walsh, the medical director of Swedish’s Addiction Recovery Service, said. “In the ’70s, people thought it was a downtown problem. It’s not like that anymore.

“The Olympic Peninsula and southern Washington have had a devastating problem.”

DelBene and Murray said it’s rural hospitals and addiction options that would disapear if the proposed Republican health bill was passed. The bill — which would reduce deficits by $321 billion over the next decade — would mean steep cuts in Medicaid expansion. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate GOP health care bill would result in 15 million more Americans losing their coverage by 2026, and chances for opioid addiction treatment would certainly dwindle.

The Trump administration has vowed to fight the opioid epidemic, but when asked if she’s seen any real movement across the aisle outside, Murray was clear: “Not yet.”

DelBene, a former director at Microsoft, spoke to Q13 News a bit about new advancements in technology that could help opioid addicts trying to beat the disease. Alternative options to opioids in order to treat chronic pain are showing promise. And recent studies have shown that telemedicine — or speaking with a doctor by video instead of in person — could lend a hand to rural residents struggling to find treatment.

“Telemedicine is important and one that has many promises for certain conditions,” DelBene said. “To be able to have people access health care or maybe talk to a counselor over video conference.”

DelBene said kinks of telemedicine still need to be worked out, but getting more care to more people is a good thing.

“There’s the thought that telemedicine could be really helpful,” Walsh said. “There have been some issues with reimbursement for telemedicine, though.”

Walsh says the DEA is also concerned about doctors providing controlled substances to patients they haven’t physically seen.