MacArthur discusses heroin task force, dismisses CBO score

MacArthur discusses how the federal government can help the opioid epidemic.

The Senate GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan is in limbo, still losing support after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers and concluded the plan would leave 22 million fewer Americans with health insurance by 2026. It would also scale back Medicaid, just like the House bill. New Jersey Representative Tom MacArthur was one of its architects. He’s questioning whether the Budget Office can be impartial. He joins Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: I’m not sure that we’ve yet heard from you on the Congressional Budget Office score of the Senate health care bill. You have some thoughts on it?

MacArthur: I do, I have looked at it carefully and my concern with the CBO score continues to be that they have been terribly inaccurate on health care for seven years. As I tried to get my mind around the why, it’s become pretty apparent to me that there is an institutional bias there. It goes to the person that’s leading the project, she worked with Hillary Clinton on single payer health care, she’s the same person that lead the scoring of Obamacare seven years ago and I have less and less faith that the numbers coming out of CBO are accurate. And I think we are going to find out in less than a year, we’re going to see that their first round of projections are inaccurate.

Cruz: What do you know about how things stand right now after this meeting with the president yesterday?

MacArthur: I don’t have any real insight on that. I know that the White House and the Senate continue to work through the challenges. David, they are the same challenges we had in the House. We had to work through differences between moderates and conservatives, you have to work through the issues of how to protect the most vulnerable and bring costs down for everyone else at the same time. And all of that is being done in a better pressure cooker because every week another part of the market is collapsing. And people are finding out all over the country that they have no choices, none. They can’t find an insurer that is permitted to write their insurance in their area and it’s just a tragedy. I know people are concerned and afraid about where this bill is going, but we just don’t have a choice at this point. We have to fix this broken health care system or the people in the individual market are going to have no place else to go.

Cruz: Alright, we are going to be talking about that clearly some more in the next couple of weeks. I know you want to talk about your bipartisan Heroin Task Force unveiling a legislative agenda yesterday, five areas of focus on everything from prevention to veterans affairs. I want to touch on a couple, lets talk about prevention. Tell me a little about Jessie’s Law.

MacArthur: Jessie’s Law came out of a real tragedy. It was a young women who has been addicted, she was on the road to recovery for years, and she had an injury and went into the hospital and the hospital was told about her history of addiction and one of the doctors that discharged her didn’t see it and sent her home with 60, I think it was, opioids and she overdosed and died.

Cruz: So what does the bill do?

MacArthur: Well the bill changes the responsibility of hospitals with regard to people that are on the road of recovery and make sure that that information gets to every doctor and makes sure the patient doesn’t have something like this happen. All of these bills are trying to get at very specific areas, and I think what that speaks to David is there is no one answer. You’ll see some of these bills deal with babies that are born addicted, some of them deal with veteran pain management issues, some of them deal with education and providing Narcan, we deal with customs and order issues. This crisis is so widespread that there’s not one silver bullet here, there’s no one thing that we can do that solves it. And in fact Congress can’t solve it on their own. We are trying to help the local community that’s really at the forefront of this.

Cruz: You know a lot of this agenda depends on the Medicaid system and access to it and expansion of it, but that doesn’t seem to jive with the Senate health care bill which calls for restrictions on Medicaid.

MacArthur: Well, I think that’s a fair question and I worked on the House bill. I added $15 billion specifically for mental illness and addiction recovery to the bill. And I’ve had numbers of discussions with senators, but I met with a group of them just in the last week on this very issue. I’d like to see a $5 billion a year fund, that’s what some of the research we have done suggests that might help the states. Say $50 billion over the next ten years, not $15 which I was able to get on the House bill, I would like to see a $50 billion fund that runs alongside Medicaid that is specifically dedicated to helping the states confront the opioid crisis. But how we fund this issue is important. And one of the things that came up yesterday at our press conference where we unveiled our legislative agenda, and before I get to that I have to add there were about 15 of our task force members at the unveiling yesterday equally representing both parties and everything that we do in the task force is done in a commitment to bipartisanship. This Medicaid issue came up and we acknowledged that we all want the same goal. We have different ideas on how to fund that, but we all understand that you have to have adequate funding at the federal level to help the communities. And that’s what we are working on, what’s the best way to help our states and towns and families deal with this.?

Cruz: Alright congressman thanks very much for taking the time, I am sure we will see you again soon.

MacArthur: David, I would like to add one more thing if I have another moment. One of the bills in this legislative agenda is my own. I’m a cosponsor of a number of them, but one of them I authored and that is a bill that would allow families to use their health savings accounts for a much broader group of their family members in helping with addiction recovery. Today you can only use your health savings accounts for people who live in your household and are dependents. I want to see grandparents be able to help grandchildren, and cousins help cousins, and nieces and nephews help aunts and uncles and you get the idea. Help families really help their broad set of family members.

Cruz: Give that some portability.

MacArthur: Yeah, with tax-free funds. And it costs the taxpayer nothing because the money is owned by the families. And so I am hoping that this is one of the bills that we can get passed as part of this whole effort.

Cruz: Alright congressman, I appreciate the time and we will see you again soon.

MacArthur: Ok, David thank you.

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