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GOP to add billions in opioid funding to health care bill in attempt to sway moderates

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GOP leadership is looking to add $45 billion to the current Obamacare repeal and replacement legislation in order to attract moderates to support the bill. However, moderates have said they will still stand in opposition without Medicaid expansion. (Getty Images)

Senate Republicans are saying that they will introduce $45 billion to the new GOP health care bill in order to help combat opioid abuse, in an attempt to win over Republican moderates who have joined a group of conservative senators in opposition to the Senate's attempt at Obamacare replacement.

According to CNN, the opioid crisis has grown alarmingly with 26 percent of patients treated with opioids becoming addicted, and one out of every 550 patients dying due to addiction-related complications in under three years of their first prescription.

The targeted moderates, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), have both made the opioid crisis a legislative priority. However, the move may be in vain, as both senators have said that the deep cuts to Medicaid legislation within the new GOP bill are a far bigger concern.

“More opioid funding would be very good and very beneficial, but the core for me is the Medicaid provision,” Capito told The Hill Thursday.

Portman and Capito released a joint statement on Tuesday from their Senate websites, both stating that they cannot support the bill in its current state.

"For months, I have engaged with my colleagues on solutions that I believe are necessary to ensure that we improve our health care system and better combat this opioid epidemic," Portman's section read. "Unfortunately, the Senate draft falls short and therefore I cannot support it in its current form."

"As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers," Capito wrote.

The GOP's health care bill in its current form cuts $772 billion to Medicaid over the course of 10 years, including rollbacks of the federal government’s funding of Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid eligibility, according to Politico.

Appearing Wednesday on CNN's New Day, Capito told host Chris Cuomo that the GOP's plan to add $45 billion in funding for opioid treatment is useless without Medicaid expansion, saying that Medicaid coverage and opioid treatment go "hand in hand."

"You're not going to access the treatment without the coverage, whether it's through the exchanges or whether it's Medicaid, you have to be able to have that coverage so that you can access the treatment the extra dollars are going to be put in to provide," Capito said.

Critics of the bill, however, say that the added $45 billion to combat opioid addiction isn't enough just to tackle the opioid crisis alone.

According to Politico, Harvard health economist Richard Frank, an HHS official under former President Barack Obama, estimates that states would need about $183 billion over 10 years to successfully tackle the opioid crisis.

“Not only is it disingenuous to say that a slush fund will be appropriate to care for people but it’s really comprehensive and integrated coverage that is what people with addiction need,” said Michael Botticelli, head of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control policy under Obama.

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