Bipartisan congressional leaders in both chambers on Tuesday night unveiled a massive bill aimed at fighting the epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States, capping months of work.
Fighting the crisis has been an area of bipartisan cooperation this year amid many fierce partisan battles raging with more publicity.
The 660-page bill takes a wide variety of actions aimed at fighting the crisis.
It lifts some limits on Medicaid paying for care at treatment facilities, undoing part of a decades-old restriction that many lawmakers called outdated. It cracks down on illicit opioids being imported through the mail from other countries, fueling the epidemic. It encourages the development of nonaddictive painkillers as an alternative to opioids.
“Once signed into law, this legislation sends help to our communities fighting on the front lines of the crisis and to the millions of families affected by opioid use disorders,” the chairs and ranking members in both chambers who worked on the measure said in a joint statement after unveiling the text late Tuesday night.
The measure is largely seen as a step in the right direction, though some have called for more funding in a sustained manner to fight the crisis.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, has a bill to provide $100 billion to fight the crisis over 10 years, which she says is more in line with what is necessary to fight the epidemic.
Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Aside from opioid policy, drug companies also failed in an intense lobbying push to attach a provision to the bill easing their costs in Medicare. The change would have rolled back a provision from February’s budget deal that raised drugmakers costs in Medicare’s coverage gap, known as the donut hole.
Drug pricing groups and some Democrats came out strongly against including the provision in the opioids bill, saying it was a “handout” to Pharma.
A Democratic source familiar with the negotiations said that a lack of discussion around a measure aimed at fighting high drug prices by increasing competition from cheaper generic drugs, called the Creates Act, held up a deal. That measure had previously been floated as part of a potential trade with drug companies for easing the Medicare provision.
“Since the Creates Act was not part of the discussion, nothing was agreed to,” the Democratic source said.
A GOP aide countered: “We have had discussions on Creates, but no Democrat ever brought this up in the context of an opioid bill. Obviously this quote came from someone not involved in the discussions.”