In a video denouncing the Senate health care bill’s slashing of Medicaid funding, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., emphasized the importance of Medicaid in battling the opioid crisis.
Warren called an additional $45 billion introduced in the new Senate health care bill to fight the opioid crisis insufficient if spending on Medicaid is to decrease.
"Right now, Medicaid is the principal way we deal with opioid abuse," Warren said. "One in three people who’s receiving treatment for drug problems gets some help from Medicaid to pay for that."
A reader asked us to check out her claim. Are one in three people receiving treatment for drug problems on Medicaid?
When we asked her office to clarify her statement, they said Warren referred specifically to opioid users, rather than all of those who suffer from drug problems.
Warren was referencing a study by Richard Frank, a professor of Health Economics in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School who testified before the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee.
Frank calculated the percentage of the non-elderly adult population with opioid use disorder covered by Medicaid, which came to 34.3 percent. He used data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the latest study from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
Thirty-four percent effectively comes to 1.029, or one, person for every three.
Warren said those people are receiving treatment, but Frank’s research looked at people suffering from opioid use disorder whether or not they are currently in treatment. But other research supports her point.
When the Kaiser Family Foundation ran the numbers for us, they found that of the 880,000 nonelderly adults with opioid addiction who received treatment for opioid use disorder in 2015, 39 percent were covered by Medicaid. They looked at the same information as Frank. When we extended the population size to include people of all ages, the number was similar: 38 percent.
Breaking down these numbers further, 51 percent of the 880,000 treated adults got outpatient treatment only (which refers to visits that don’t warrant an overnight stay), 6 percent got inpatient treatment only, and 43 percent got both inpatient and outpatient treatment. Julia Zur, a senior policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation, explained that outpatient treatment is more popular and that patients who start in inpatient treatment will often go on to receive outpatient treatment.
When we asked why the number of those who are receiving treatment and covered by Medicaid is higher than those who are simply covered, Frank explained that Medicaid programs tend to be more generous in covering costs than private programs, and Medicaid plans cover at least some medication-assisted treatment to treat substance use disorders.
The Medicaid expansion was particularly helpful in securing coverage, as it reached high-need segments of the low-income population in states that have been hard hit by the opioid crisis.
Warren said that one in three people receiving treatment for opioid addiction were covered by Medicaid, basing her estimate on 34 percent of people with opioid use disorder. The number was higher when we looked at only those receiving treatment: 39 percent.
So while the numbers differ slightly, one in three is still a fair estimate.
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