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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Opioid Legislation Takes Center Stage in House and Senate

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This week, both chambers of Congress spent time negotiating legislation to combat the opioid crisis. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee held a second hearing on the draft Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Simultaneously, the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee held its final opioid-focused hearing to review 30-plus bills focused on opioid-related coverage and payment issues in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Committee leaders Chairman Walden (R-OR) and Chairman Alexander (R-TN) appear to want to move quickly, aiming for floor votes by the summer.


The Senate’s discussion draft shares many similarities with bills under consideration in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Both versions contain many National Council priorities including: expanded access to opioid addiction treatment in Medicaid, making federal student loan forgiveness available for the addiction treatment workforce, and promoting national standards for recovery housing. Notably, members of House are considering including provisions to amend the Institutes of Mental Disease (IMD) rule by allowing Medicaid to pay for patient stays of up to 90 days in an IMD for residential substance use treatment.

Additionally, the Senate package includes proposals to expand use of telemedicine in prescribing treatment for opioid addiction and mental health disorders. These proposals were developed as the result of National Council efforts to work with Members of Congress to remove barriers to MAT and prescribing of certain psychiatric medications. National Council member, David Guth, CEO of Centerstone America, explained in testimony during the Senate hearing that telehealth benefits behavioral health providers in two ways, “Telehealth has a dual purpose of both connecting patients to lifesaving care that may have previously been beyond their physical reach, and also of reducing the effects of a behavioral health workforce shortage.”


Legislators in both chambers are expected to continue to separately review and advance their opioid proposals. Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-LA) announced a full Committee hearing on Tuesday, April 24th to discuss and advance the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. Energy and Committee Health Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) has said he wants to bring his committee’s package to the House floor by Memorial Day.