Health Center Federal Policy

Congress Passes Bipartisan Opioids Package

By: Aliza Auces and Megan Chung  (NACHC Federal Affairs Intern)

After many months of debate and review of a slew of opioid bills attempting to address the nation’s current opioid epidemic, last week Congress passed a comprehensive, bipartisan opioids package entitled H.R. 6, SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. This bill has now been sent to the President’s desk, where it will most likely be signed later this week.

Ahead of the Senate’s approval of the bill, NACHC sent a letter of support for this opioids package to leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives. While additional work (and funding) is still needed, NACHC is pleased to see several provisions in the soon-to-be law that will help health centers and their patients, including:

  • The creation of new loan repayment opportunities for substance use disorder (SUD) providers;
  • A variety of pilot programs and grants encouraging community partnerships (including with health centers);
  • Improved access to telehealth services for SUD treatment;
  • Ensured mental health parity for pregnant women and children within the Children’s Health Insurance Program;
  • Permanent Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) prescribing regulations allowing Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to prescribe buprenorphine as well as increased flexibility for patient caps, and allowing additional advanced practice nurses to prescribe for a period of 5 years.

NACHC particularly applauds Congress for their authorization of $8 million to support expanded access to MAT at health centers and rural health clinics under the Medicare program by covering the costs of a provider’s waiver to prescribe MAT. As written in our letter of support to Congress, “we believe this provision will be of great assistance to health centers who are initiating and expanding [opioid use disorder] treatment programs in underserved areas across the country.”

These changes can’t come soon enough – in 2016, over 2 million people in the United States had an opioid use disorder, and over 42,000 deaths were attributed to opioid overdose. Community Health Centers have risen to the challenge in the face of the epidemic. Hopefully, the new policy changes included in this latest legislation will better support health centers as they continue to combat the opioid epidemic at the local level, providing substance use disorder services to all who need it, including low-income patients and rural communities.

For more information on specific provisions of the legislation, please refer to this comprehensive summary of the bill. For any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact us at federalaffairs@nachc.org.

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