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Can Medicaid Expansion Reduce Overdose Deaths?

We always like to keep an eye on the articles that come out of U.S. News & World Report. Surprisingly, the national research site publishes a lot of interesting insights on the topic of addiction and how it impacts the country as a whole. This week, they shared data on the United States Medicaid program and how the states which have expanded it have seen an overall decrease in overdose deaths.

Focusing specifically on New York, Rhode Island and our home state of California, the site found that opioid and heroin-related OD deaths declined because these regions chose to expand the Affordable Cate Act Medicaid program. There are some interesting theories behind why this may be and the study shared some compelling facts.

“Counties within states that expanded Medicaid (such as California) had a 6% decreased rate of opioid overdose deaths after expansion compared with counties within states that did not expand Medicaid eligibility,” the study authors wrote. “Broken down by type of opioid, these counties also had an 11% decreased rate of fatal heroin overdoses and a 10% decreased rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl.”

The authors concluded that the Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of mental health and substance abuse recovery services contributed to those declines. It called out low income citizens, specifically, highlighting how Medicaid gets them specialized treatment that they could not normally afford.

And the truth is, those with lower incomes can benefit greatly from Medicaid’s services. The way the program is currently set up, individuals who are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line (which is defined at about $16,600 annually per person) can receive access to mental health and addiction treatment. This means they can enter programs to help get them off of opioids or other drugs without having to worry about substantial payments.

The stats definitely show that people with that option are taking advantage of the program. States who have limited Medicaid’s availability, however, are not seeing these types of overdose declines. Our hope is that hard data like this can further support the need for treatment within lower income regions of the U.S.

We know just how effective mental health services and recovery treatment can be. And, as the data shows, having it more available to people without means can make a real difference in saving lives and putting a dent in this crisis.