Grace Notes: Sorry, Jeff Landry, opioids are not a partisan problem

Thursday, 09 November 2017, 02:02:04 AM. It's almost as if Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry thinks giving people access to health care is bad for their health.

It's almost as if Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry thinks giving people access to health care is bad for their health.

More likely, it's as if he thinks his job is to work an attack on Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, no matter how farfetched, into every matter he touches.

This time Landry is taking aim at Edwards' proudest accomplishment, his expansion of Medicaid via the Affordable Care Act, which has given insurance to more than 430,000 Louisianans and drastically cut the state's uninsured rate. In unveiling a new prescription take-back box at the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters Tuesday, Landry alleged that, by expanding access to prescription coverage, Edwards' initiative has compounded the opioid problem.

This isn't an original idea but a Washington talking point that's been circulating among opponents of the ACA, which the Republican-led Congress has tried and failed to repeal several times this year. The Associated Press reported that it originated in a report for Republican Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, and that researchers who study the drug epidemic see no evidence of causation.

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In fact, there's a much more convincing argument that Medicaid expansion helps fight the problem by paying to treat addiction. About 13,800 expansion patients in Louisiana have received inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment in the last year, according to the state Department of Health. The department has also worked to reduce the possibility of abuse by imposing limits on availability of drugs in question. As of July, Medicaid patients suffering acute pain can only get a seven-day supply.

Beyond the facts, the attack is tone deaf.

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Trying to turn public opinion against Medicaid expansion is a fool's errand. Edwards campaigned on a promise to expand it and practically beams with pride when he talks about the people who've gotten diagnoses and are now getting treatment, and there's been no sign of a backlash on the ground.

Residents of other states want in, too. Just Tuesday, about 60 percent of voters in Maine approved a referendum to adopt Medicaid expansion, after the state's Republican governor, Paul LePage, repeatedly vetoed legislative efforts to join up. Other Republicans governors in states that have accepted the expansion have vocally defended its results.

You'd think Landry could manage to launch an anti-opioid program without making things partisan; after all, just about everyone agrees we're in the midst of a public health crisis.

If only everyone agreed that this is one area that really doesn't need to be politicized.

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