The fate of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion looks to play a major role in a White House commission's effort to combat the opioid epidemic.
Some members of the new opioid panel, which had its inaugural meeting Friday, noted that any repeal of Medicaid's expansion would spell serious trouble for fighting opioid abuse, which federal data shows kills 62 people a day.
"We have to mention the fact that any repeal of Medicaid is a repeal of coverage we currently have out there," said Patrick J. Kennedy, a former Democratic member of Congress who is now a mental health advocate.
The White House's opioid commission discussed with experts how to battle the opioid epidemic. The panel is expected to issue a final report with recommendations by Oct. 1.
One expert pointed to the GOP congressional effort to roll back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion as part of its larger repeal effort.
"Medicaid is the largest national payer for addiction and mental health treatment. Medicaid must continue as an entitlement," said Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director for the National Council for Behavioral Health, one of the experts the panel invited. "The Medicaid expansion must be maintained and completed."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat and member of the panel, said we are "kidding ourselves if we don't think that what is happening over in Congress regarding issues of healthcare matters to this issue. If we make it harder and more expensive for people to get healthcare coverage it is going to make this crisis worse."
The questions about Medicaid come as the Republican-controlled Senate is working on its own version of the House-passed American Health Care Act, which would partially repeal Obamacare.
The House legislation would keep Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in place until 2020, and then states can decided whether to adopt a block grant or a per capita cap for federal funding. A block grant gives a state a fixed amount of Medicaid funding and per capita caps give states Medicaid funding based on the amount of beneficiaries.
It is not known how the Senate plans to address Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, but some centrist Republicans are pushing to phase out the Medicaid expansion over seven years, a plan that leadership has not endorsed.
Other issues discussed during the meeting include boosting training for doctors about addiction treatment.
Parks called for the federal government to permanently authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, an addiction treatment that itself is addictive. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed last year, increases the amount of buprenorphine that doctors can prescribe.