In a letter sent today to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called attention to Florida’s heroin and opioids crisis and sought answers on how Medicaid can do more.

In his letter, Nelson declared that the heroin and opioid epidemic is “devastating Florida” and he encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

He noted that Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay‘s effort to get Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency, and Congress’s efforts to push a comprehensive approach and provide additional funding to approach opioid abuse.

Now Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and in Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.

“If those cuts are made, how do you propose states like Florida provide the necessary services to help individuals with substance use disorder?” Nelson inquired.

Then he turned to the Medicaid expansion program included in the Affordable Care Act, noting that Florida declined it, leaving an estimated 309,000 low-income Floridians with mental health or substance abuse disorders without easy access to affordable health care.

According to a study by Harvard University and New York University, Medicaid expansion provides drug treatment to nearly 1.3 million Americans,” Nelson wrote. “If Florida expanded its Medicaid program, would it be able to increase access to treatment for those with opioid use disorder? And would expanding Medicaid help the state avoid the rising costs associated with the opioid crisis and mental health needs?

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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