Trump Plans To Repeal Obamacare Spark Concern Among Drug Addicts


President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but a new Vice documentary highlights how that move could cause fatal results for addicts who rely on Obamacare for drug treatment.

Thirty-one states opted into the Affordable Care Act expansion program. For Kentucky, which has particularly struggled with opioid addiction, the move meant that 450,000 of the state’s poorest residents were enrolled. Drug treatment services for these beneficiaries increased by 740%.

The expansion allowed residents like Ronda Hardin, who spent five months behind bars after shoplifting to support her heroin addiction, to receive free drug treatment because the Louisville jail she stayed in enrolled her in Medicare. That enabled her to receive shots of the opioid blocker Vivitrol upon being released, which would cost $1,000 each if she paid out of pocket.

“It meant somebody cares and thank God there’s something out there that will help me pay for this,” said Hardin. “If I was released straight from jail on my own, I’d probably go get high because it’s easier to get $20 or $40 than $1,000.”

Fatal overdoses from heroin, painkillers and other opioids having quadrupled since 1999. But despite this, the initiative is viewed as too costly by Tom Price, Trump’s pick for health secretary. He introduced a bill in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare and instead offer states $750 million in grants to combat substance abuse. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has also echoed similar sentiments, despite the state being projected to save $21 million on mental and behavioral health services thanks to the expansion.

John Yarmuth (D), of the Third Congressional District in Kentucky, explained that Price’s plan would potentially end programs like the one offered to Hardin because health insurers would no longer be required to cover drug treatment.

“We’re talking literally thousands and thousands of people being treated for addiction who will lose their coverage,” said Yarmuth. So they’ll either have to come up with the money themselves, which in most cases is impossible, or they’re going to spiral into more serious problems. There is a human cost to this, human cost meaning death.”

With access to drug treatment potentially declining drastically in the near future, many addicts like Hardin are aware of the importance of sticking to the program laid out in front of them.

“[Vivitrol] is actually a life changing shot if someone really wants to get clean. I’m ready to change my life. I’m 40 years and old tired of using drugs,” she said. “I think I can deal with one shot a month instead of sticking a needle in my arm every day.”