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Health Care Reform Bill Includes $1B for N.H., Other States Battling Heroin Crisis

Lawmakers in the U.S. House have overwhelmingly passed a wide-ranging health care reform bill that sets aside $1 billion to be split among states like New Hampshire battling the heroin and opioid addiction crisis.

The bipartisan legislation sailed through on a 392-26 vote Wednesday, and includes everything from an overhaul of how new drugs are approved to nearly $5 billion for medical research. 

Annie Kuster is a Democrat representing New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. She voted for the bill, and joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about the legislation.

This bill does a lot of different things, it’s comprehensive, but let’s focus first on the funding for heroin and opioid addiction. What could this mean for New Hampshire?

We’re very excited and the whole New Hampshire delegation has been working hard on this. It’s going to be directed toward increasing access to treatment and long-term recovery, as well as education and prevention efforts to get upstream from the heroin crisis that’s been plaguing New Hampshire.

How much funding could we see coming to New Hampshire, and where would the money go?

It’s going to be directed to the state and the states will decide based upon projects that are ready and up and running in New Hampshire. It’s $500 million for each fiscal year 2017 and 2018, so $1 billion, total. It will be administered through the substance abuse and mental health services administration. The money will come directly to New Hampshire based on a formula of need. And because of our, sadly, high rate of heroin deaths, we should expect to see our fair share of that funding. And hopefully the funding will begin to flow over the next several months.

What specifically will this do for current addicts?

Mainly access to treatment. That’s been a real bottleneck in New Hampshire, making sure that we have available treatment. We don’t have enough either outpatient programs or beds for residential treatment and it’s been very difficult to access treatment. So that’s the biggest focus. But also mental health; the bill includes funding for mental health. We’ve learned through our bipartisan task force to combat the heroin epidemic that four out of five heroin users have a co-occurring mental health disorder and often it’s undiagnosed or untreated. So it could be PTSD, trauma, anxiety; these are issues that we need to get people the help and support that they need so that they don’t turn to substance misuse in response to that.

This bill now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it’s expected to pass, but there are some Democratic lawmakers are already raising concerns.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts argues the bill would actually weaken FDA standards for approval of new drugs and medical devices by trying to speed up the process.

How do you respond to those concerns?

This actually from the effort by Vice President Joe Biden. It’s called the Cancer Moonshot. And after his son Beau died, he’s traveled throughout the entire country, talking to researchers who are working on new cancer cures. And the one refrain he heard over and over is it just takes too long to get these new cancer drugs to the people that need them. It also impacts Alzheimer’s, which is something near and dear to my heart. My mother, former state Senator Susan McLane, had Alzheimer’s disease. So there is in this bill a process to speed up that approval so that we can get these medicines to families and people in need all over the country. So although I’ve heard Sen. Warren’s criticism, I think the bill is strong. It received overwhelming support in the House and I anticipate it will pass quickly in the Senate early next week.

You don’t have any safety concerns with speeding up that approval process?

No. This is with regard to lengthy delays in the FDA process. It won’t impact safety. 

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.

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