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Senator Brown announces new funding for opioids, health centers in budget deal

Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown helped secure $6 billion over the next two years to address the opioid epidemic along with a two-year funding extension for Community Health Centers (CHCs) in the bipartisan budget agreement announced Wednesday.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (Source: WTOL)

WASHINGTON D.C. (WTOL) - Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown helped secure $6 billion over the next two years to address the opioid epidemic along with a two-year funding extension for Community Health Centers (CHCs) in the bipartisan budget agreement announced Wednesday.

Senator Brown met with Ohio CHCs Tuesday, and earlier this week, Senator Brown joined his colleague Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman in a bipartisan letter requesting that funding for CHCs be part of the next government funding bill.

Congress will now negotiate the most effective ways to allocate the additional opioid dollars.

Senator Brown is calling for states like Ohio, that are disproportionately hit by the opioid epidemic, to be prioritized in allocating these dollars and called for the funding of his INTERDICT Act, which was signed into law to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with additional hi-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S.

"The commitment to invest $6 billion over the next two years is a good start for Ohio communities in desperate need of resources to battle the opioid epidemic. But we know there is more work to be done," Senator Brown said. "As Congress distributes these resources, I'll be pushing my colleagues to prioritize Ohio and other states who've been hardest hit by this public health crisis. It is also critical we back up the INTERDICT Act with real dollars to get law enforcement the tools to keep deadly opioids out of the country."

Funding for Community Health Centers expired on September 30. The bill announced Wednesday would extend funding for CHCs for two years.

According to the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, Ohio is home to 51 CHCs with nearly 300 locations, serving more than 700,000 Ohioans.

"Every time I meet with Community Health Centers from Ohio they tell me they need Congress to give them the certainty to keep their doors open to patients, run their businesses and support local jobs," Senator Brown said. "This bipartisan agreement is good news to the dozens of Health Centers across the state and the thousands of Ohioans who rely on them to get checkups or to get well when they're sick."

Senator Brown also worked to secure other key priorities for Ohio families and hospitals in the bill including:

  • Four more years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In January, CHIP was extended for six years, after months of efforts by Senator Brown. The agreement announced Wednesday adds four years, bringing CHIP’s extension to 10 years. Senator Brown introduced a bipartisan, five-year CHIP extension in September 2017 and passed it out of the Finance Committee in October. Senator Brown has been calling on Republican leaders to pass CHIP month after month.
  • A Senator Brown provision to help bring down the cost of prescription drugs. The provision would fully close the so-called “donut hole,” which left seniors vulnerable to outrageous out-of-pocket drug costs, two years earlier than current law, providing faster relief for seniors. The provision is part of Senator Brown’s larger bill to address prescription drug prices.
  • A five-year extension of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. MIECHV targets high-risk families who are most likely to benefit from intensive home visiting services, through which trained professionals (often nurses, social workers, or parent educators) help parents acquire the skills to promote their children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development. The home visiting programs help families connect to necessary services, such as health care or community resources, and monitor child development and progress on developmental milestones. This program has been particularly important to Ohio families given the state’s struggle with addiction and infant mortality.
  • A repeal of the Medicare therapy cap. Currently, Medicare policy applies a cap on outpatient occupational therapy just over $1,900, and a cap on physical therapy and speech language pathology services combined also just over $1,900. Eliminating the therapy cap allows for Medicare rehabilitation services and coverage to be more flexible and responsive to individual patient needs, which is crucial when considering the diverse and complex needs of patients.
  • An additional $2 billion to fund lifesaving research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As part of the budget deal, the NIH will receive an additional $2 billion for medical research.
  • A two-year extension of the Medicare Dependent Hospital (MDH) program and adjustment for low-volume hospitals for two years. MDH provides enhanced reimbursement to support rural health infrastructure and to support small rural hospitals for which Medicare patients make up a significant percentage of inpatient days or discharges. This greater dependence on Medicare may make these hospitals more financially vulnerable, and the MDH designation is designed to reduce this risk. Qualifying low-volume hospitals receive add-on payments based on the number of Medicare discharges.