An editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader criticizes Gov. Maggie Hassan’s (D) response to the opioid crisis, saying she has focused more on Medicaid expansion than on the drug problem, and highlights a super PAC ad that also criticized Hassan for her failure to solve the epidemic. But Medicaid expansion would play a significant role in addressing the opioid crisis, and the ad touted by the Union Leader is in such poor taste that Hassan’s Senate opponent, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), has asked the PAC to “take down their ad.”
The June 8 editorial points to an ad produced by “the One Nation PAC affiliated with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell,” which claims that Hassan has dragged her feet in response to the state’s ongoing opioid abuse crisis. The editorial goes on to say that “Hassan has clearly made Medicaid expansion her top legislative priority over the past three years, not the opioid crisis.” From the Union Leader:
The Democratic governor and U.S. Senate candidate isn’t happy about a new ad that points out her lack of leadership in addressing New Hampshire’s opioid crisis. The ad, produced by the One Nation PAC affiliated with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, points out that Hassan’s veto of the state budget delayed an increase in funding for substance abuse treatment programs. It also criticizes Hassan’s do-nothing drug czar, and urges Hassan to work to pass the $1.5 million Granite Hammer program.
Hassan and her allies freaked out about “out of state special interests.” But Hassan didn’t complain when Michael Bloomberg, Gabby Giffords or Harry Reid dumped millions in negative ads on Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
And Hassan did veto the state budget, delaying the substance abuse program for three months. She did stand by a do-nothing drug czar for a year and a half before finally replacing him earlier this year.
Hassan has clearly made Medicaid expansion her top legislative priority over the past three years, not the opioid crisis. She did nothing as House Democrats voted down the Granite Hammer program. If she’d cared as much as she claims, she would have worked to pass it.
Soon after the ad was released, Ayotte tweeted that it should be taken down.
As I’ve said before: No one should be playing politics with the heroin epidemic. One Nation should take down their ad.
— Kelly Ayotte (@KellyAyotte) June 7, 2016
The Union Leader’s claim that Hassan has attempted to prioritize Medicaid expansion -- which extends a state’s public health insurance program to those living at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level -- over addressing the opioid crisis ignores just how important expansion is to addressing the crisis. The Center for Disease Control notes that those people most at risk for heroin addiction include “people without insurance or enrolled in Medicaid.”
In addition, Medicaid expansion would play a crucial role in addressing the opioid crisis because access to health insurance means greater access to drug treatment. As Vox’s German Lopez explained, studies have shown that Medicaid paid for around a quarter of the combined “public and private spending for drug abuse treatment in 2014,” which “makes it the second biggest payer for drug abuse treatment spending after all local and state government programs” Lopez went on to note the two important ways that Medicaid expansion can help provide drug treatment:
1) It gives people insurance they can use to pay for drug abuse treatment. According to a March report from the Department of Health and Human Services, about 1.9 million uninsured low-income people with mental illness or drug use disorders live in states without the Medicaid expansions. (The report did not elaborate just how many have a drug use disorder specifically, but it's likely in the hundreds of thousands.)
2) It might encourage more treatment facilities to open up. The idea: If a state expands Medicaid, more treatment facilities may open up in those locations since they know they'll have paying customers. Saloner, who's working on a study related to this issue, said there's “some evidence” that insurance expansions can cause “shifts in the market for treatment.”
By fighting for the reauthorization of medicaid expansion in New Hampshire, Hassan has been advocating for one of the most effective tools in fighting the opioid crisis.
The Union Leader’s editorial represents at least its second attempt to politicize the opioid crisis. In March, the board attacked Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), saying the “politics were obvious” in Shaheen’s attempt to “score points” by adding an amendment to increase funding to a bill that provides states with grants aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic. The Union Leader said Shaheen’s amendment was an effort to provide “ammunition for Democrats to accuse Ayotte of not responding forcefully enough.” Yet, the editorial failed to note that Ayotte had co-sponsored and voted for the amendment.