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Legislation will improve and speed access to treatment for opioid addiction among vulnerable populations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced two bipartisan bills to combat the opioid epidemic that has plagued communities in Delaware, and across the country, for far too long. Senator Carper’s bills would help to improve and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid in order to better treat substance abuse and opioid abuse and also allow Medicare patients to access alternatives to opioid medications more quickly and easily. 

“Seriously addressing the opioid crisis that has plagued far too many families demands immediate and bipartisan action. We need smart solutions to combat this heartbreaking epidemic that has indiscriminately afflicted communities throughout the First State and across this country,” Senator Carper said. “While we know that opioid addiction is a complex problem, we also know that fatal overdoses are preventable and that better access to alternatives to opioids, medication-assisted treatment and mental health care services can help save lives. The bills I have written and introduced with my Democratic and Republican colleagues will allow more people to access treatments that can prevent more deaths and also help those who are addicted recover from this deadly disease.”

One of Senator Carper’s bill, the Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment via Telehealth Act (S.2904), will require Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance to streamline, improve, and increase the use of telehealth in Medicaid to treat substance and opioid abuse, particularly among children, adult populations under the age of 40, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and children receiving services in school-based health centers. Telehealth – which is the ability to provide healthcare services remotely to patients living in rural or less accessible areas – has expanded services throughout Delaware. This bill would further improve those services for underserved and vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicaid. 

The second piece of legislation, the Electronic Prior Authorization in Medicare Part D Act (S.2908), which Senator Carper introduced with Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), would improve and increase the use of electronic prior authorization, frequently called e-prior authorization, in Medicare Part D so that patients would receive faster access to alternatives to opioid medications for chronic and acute pain and improved access to medication-assisted treatment to treat opiate addiction. In 2015 alone, Delaware doctors wrote nearly 800,000 prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, which amounts to 80 prescriptions for every 100 persons. Through this legislation, patients would be able to get the alternatives to opioids and medication-assisted treatment more quickly, which could help save lives throughout the First State.  

These bills will help to ensure that vulnerable populations in the First State, including children, seniors and low-income families, will not be forgotten in the fight against addiction. From July 2016 to September 2017 alone, Delaware has seen a 105 percent increase in opioid overdose emergency department visits, and 154 Delawareans were lost to opioid-related overdoses.

Senator Carper continued, “Year after year, hundreds of families in Delaware and tens of thousands of Americans have suffered the loss of their loved ones to fatal overdoses, and many more have witnessed someone they love struggle with addiction and substance abuse. We cannot waste any time. We must come together to implement practical and effective solutions that address one of the most lethal public health crisis in our country’s history. We need to work across the aisle and with state and local partners to deliver results now and prevent even one more person from falling victim to this deadly disease.”