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Republicans’ Medicaid rollback at odds with opioid epidemic

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WASHINGTON — The Republican campaign to roll back Barack Obama’s health care law is colliding with America’s opioid epidemic. Medicaid cutbacks would hit hard in states deeply affected by the addiction crisis and struggling to turn the corner, according to state data and concerned lawmakers in both parties.

The central issue is that the House health care bill would phase out “Obamacare’s” expanded Medicaid, which allows states to provide federally backed insurance to low-income adults previously not eligible. Many people in that demographic are in their 20s and 30s and dealing with opioid addiction. Dollars from Washington have allowed states to boost their response to the crisis, paying for medication, counseling, therapy and other services.

According to data compiled by The Associated Press, Medicaid expansion accounted for 61 percent of total Medicaid spending on substance abuse treatment in Kentucky, 47 percent in West Virginia, 56 percent in Michigan, 59 percent in Maryland, and 31 percent in Rhode Island. In Ohio, the expansion accounted for 43 percent of Medicaid spending in 2016 on behavioral health, a category that includes mental health and substance abuse.

Those states accepted the Medicaid expansion and represent a cross-section of places hardest hit by the nation’s drug-overdose epidemic, which claimed more than 52,000 lives in 2015. Of the deaths, more than 6 in 10 were due to opioids, from prescription pain relievers like oxycodone to street drugs like heroin and an elephant tranquilizer.

Tracy Plouck, Ohio’s director of mental health and addiction services, said Medicaid expansion dollars from Washington have allowed her state to redirect its own resources to priorities like providing recovery housing after detox. Reversing that would have real consequences for people who are trying to straighten their out their lives, she said. “If you go back into an environment where people are using, that sets you up with a risk that’s nearly insurmountable.”

In Youngstown, factory mechanic Paul Wright credits sustained help from Medicaid with his survival after he nearly died from a heroin overdose. Wright said he had started using as a teenager but now has been drug-free for 18 months. Before Medicaid expanded, his father’s health insurance would pay for detox but not for long-term treatment. Wright would relapse. With Medicaid, he’s been able to get follow-up.

“It’s truly sad, but I’ve been to many funerals since I’ve been clean,” said Wright, who’s in his mid-20s. “I just think Medicaid — honestly — it saves people.” And he’s able to work.

Paul Wright, left, talks while sitting next to Niki Campana, Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio. Republican efforts to roll back “Obamacare” are colliding with the opioid epidemic. Cutbacks would hit hard in states that are deeply affected by the addiction crisis and struggling to turn the corner. The issue is Medicaid, expanded under former President Barack Obama. Data show that Medicaid expansion is paying for a large share of treatment costs in hard hit states. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

The House GOP bill would end the extra funding states get through expanded Medicaid in 2020, and place a limit on overall federal spending for the program in the future. People already covered like Wright would be grandfathered in as long as they continue to meet eligibility requirements. But that’s no comfort to Carolyn Givens, who runs the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center, where Wright gets help.

“If somebody could say to me, ‘Carolyn, the crisis is going to be over next week,’ I’d feel OK — but I got 40 people on a waiting list,” Givens said.

Medicaid cuts have become a major sticking point in the Senate for the GOP’s American Health Care Act. Republican leaders can only afford to lose two votes, and several GOP senators from hard-hit states have been critical. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Tuesday that senators are considering stretching the phase-out by three years, to 2023.

At a recent budget hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended the Trump administration and raised questions about how much difference Medicaid actually makes.

The HHS budget for the opioid crisis is more than three times as great as two years ago, $811 million versus $245 million, Price said. That reflects increases approved by Congress beyond what Medicaid spends.

Questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about the consequences of reducing Medicaid’s commitment, Price responded that more government spending is not the answer.

“Let me respectfully suggest … that the programs that are out there by and large are not working,” Price said. “We are losing more Americans today than we did last year. … Clearly we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

Price suggested that states would be more effective with greater flexibility promised by the GOP plan for Medicaid.

Said Leahy: “As a child I believed in the tooth fairy, but I’m a little bit older now.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said it’s too early to expect a turnaround in the epidemic. “The resources are just getting to the communities,” she said.

In New Hampshire, “we’re just beginning to see the benefits of having the expansion of Medicaid to provide treatment for people,” Shaheen added.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., wasn’t convinced either. “I’m having trouble, as many of us are, reconciling your stated goal (about the opioid crisis) being one of your top three priorities with these dramatic cuts, ” she said to Price during the hearing.

Cutting financing for the Medicaid expansion “would create an unsustainable financial obligation” for West Virginia, said Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the state’s health department.

Back in Youngstown, recovering addict Niki Campana said “it’s like the apocalypse around here.” Campana is helping other women with drug problems.

“I work with a lot of girls that struggle,” she said at the Kennedy treatment center. “We can get them on Medicaid in a day and get them in treatment. For that not to be able to happen, that would be horrible.”
___
Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Frankfort, Kentucky; Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska; Randall Chase in Wilmington, Delaware; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Ben Nuckols in Washington; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael Virtanen in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Brian Witte in Annapolis contributed to this report.

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Denver’s Wes Watkins dynamic new future-funk EP is from another planet

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Future-Funk Party Starter | Wes Watkins

Dreams Out from Denver’s best kept secret Wes Watkins wears so many musical hats it needs a rack; downtempo G-Funk homage and sweltering nee-Soul / Rn’B are all over this release, all covered with a thicc pop glaze and a penchant for electronic-sonic experimentation that keep every song fascinatingly adventurous while maintaining a danceability and groove that easily, easily warrants multiple listens. Don’t sleep on this one.


Lo-Fuzz Folkie | Hoi Ann

The beauty of Hoi Ann’s Tangenier lies in both what you can hear and what it may want you to not hear. Lo-fi folk and bedroom-pop are easily tangible on its surface, but the buzzy electronic tones that sparingly flourish the 5 songs of this release lie low and create a unique aural atmosphere for listeners, like hidden secrets for your ears only.


Indie-Punk Sweeties | Gestalt

The pop-punk shred-bois in Gestalt are back at it again; The irresistible combo of the Get Up Kids earnest midwestern-emo and smart pop-punk wit of the Wonder Years is strong on the tracks that encompass LongBoix, as is an acute fondness and growing appreciation for the finer indie rock of yesteryear. Well I guess this is growing up.


Psych-Rock Screamcore | Gone Full Heathen

On their criminally good self titled EP, Fort Collins heavies Gone Full Heathen friggin dare you to try and trap them in a single genre. Nice try, but they’ll just chew right through your puny ropes using a gnashing blend of crushing stoner-rock laced hardcore punk and overdriven psych-rock / post-metal induced bite like the righteous rock and roll wolves that they are.


All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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The Haze Craze for Lazy Days

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There are many different styles of beer. Ranging from light lagers (think Bud Light) and ales to sours, stouts, and IPAs.

Within those styles, however, are varying styles.

For example, one would think a sour beer is a sour beer, right? Wrong. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, which defines every style of beer, there are six recognized European sour styles.

For IPAs, there are seven. American beers have four; stouts have three… You get the point.

Even with viewing the list of recognized styles, it’s not a complete list.

Take New England IPAs (NE IPA), as a prime example. Many breweries are currently mass producing this style of beer, and it’s selling like crazy.

You may have heard one of your annoying beer loving friends talk about drinking a “juice bomb,” or a requesting a “hazy IPA” at the pub, and shrugged it off. It turns out, they (sometimes) know what they are talking about.

What makes NE IPAs so popular when compared to a more traditional, West Coast IPA? NE IPAs have all of the hop flavors, without an overabundance of bitterness.

Instead of constantly adding hops throughout the boil to achieve a fruity flavor balanced by bitterness, the NE IPA has a small hop addition at the begging, and then nothing else until after the boil has finished.

That translates into a beer with very little bitterness, and plenty of hop aroma and flavor. Hops like Citra, Mosaic, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado are most common in NE IPAs, according to the Homebrewers Association. Those hops tend to impart a fruity, and dare I say, juicy flavor profile.

Between the juicy flavor and the seemingly natural haziness to NE IPAs, it’s not far fetched for an NE IPA to look like a tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice, only carbonated and full of alcohol.

NE IPAs are starting to gain momentum here in Colorado, with breweries turning their focus to the haze craze. Specifically, Odd13, WeldWerks, and Epic Brewing coming to mind.

Odd13 is based in Lafayette, Colo. and has a long list of NE-inspired IPAs constantly rotating through the tap room and distributed throughout the state. Codename: Super fan and Noob are two beers that are found in cans, and both offer a different approach to the haze craze.

WeldWerks is based in Greeley, Colo. and has accumulated a cult-like following in just a few short years for its Juicy Bits NE IPA. The brewery just started self-distributing locally, so you’ll have to make the trip to the brewery and pick up a crowler or four. Be sure to check the WeldWerks Facebook page for availability and limits. Yes, they have to place per person limits on how much you can purchase.

Epic Brewing recently announced its NE IPA, which will rotate between four different flavor profiles throughout the year. The cans will look the same but will be different colors as a quick way to tell identify which version you have.

So the next time you walk into a brewery or liquor store, it’s OK to ask for a hazy or juicy IPA. It’s a thing, and, frankly, they are damn good.

On Tap: By the time this hits newsstands, ThunderZone Pizza & Taphouse will have opened on the CSU-P campus. Located at 2270 Rawlings Blvd., the ThunderZone features 32 taps, a carefully curated tap list, and is locally owned.

At the opening, the tap list includes tasty brews from the likes of Florence Brewing and Lost Highway.

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Senators upend GOP health care bill in true Trump style… Twitter

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WASHINGTON — When Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran decided they were in ready to disrupt the GOP rewrite of the health care law, they chose President Donald Trump’s favorite medium.

They could not support Senate Republicans’ plan, the somewhat unlikely pair of conservatives tweeted at 8:30 p.m. Monday night, giving no heads up to the White House or Senate leaders before pressing send.

The story behind the statement reveals two senators willing to be branded as bill killers and seemingly unconcerned with trying to soften the blow with party leaders.

The announcement, coming after some 10 days of conversations between the men, stunned official Washington and left Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with the GOP bill, effectively sinking the measure. It landed shortly after Trump dined with a group of senators to discuss strategy – unwittingly plotting a plan that would immediately become outdated.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader, found out about Lee’s defection after the White House dinner of rosemary-grilled rib eye and summer vegetable succotash. He “had no idea it was coming,” Cornyn said.

Another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, found out from TV news.

Moran, a second-term lawmaker from Kansas who isn’t known for making waves, and Lee, a two-term senator from Utah who has clashed with Trump, have been talking over the past 10 days about the health care legislation and agreed the GOP bill did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare or address rising health-care costs. They decided to announce their position to make the bill’s fate clear and allow senators to move on, Moran said.

“It could have been prolonged for days or weeks while no one said anything,” Moran said in an interview.

Moran, who oversaw the Senate Republicans’ 2014 election campaigns, concluded last week he wouldn’t vote for the latest version of the bill but “gave myself a weekend in Kansas to think about it,” he said.

Lee had helped draft an amendment, along with fellow conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones to lower costs. Cruz agreed to some changes in wording by GOP leaders, but Lee thought the new language allowed too many Obama-era regulations to remain in place.

After talking again, Moran and Lee agreed Monday night on a statement drafted earlier in the day. They issued their statement shortly after a White House dinner attended by seven GOP senators – all likely yes votes on the health care bill. Neither Lee nor Moran attended.

A Lee spokesman said the statement – and its timing – “had nothing to do with the White House dinner. It was not a reaction in any way.”

The statement was made public as soon as it was ready, the spokesman said.

Neither Trump nor McConnell received advance warning about the statement, although it’s likely that neither the president nor the Senate leader was completely surprised.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spent the weekend calling lawmakers, including Lee and at least seven other GOP senators, according to the administration. Trump talked politics, while Pence discussed policy.

Trump called Lee on Saturday, and Lee told the president he was leaning against the bill, for the reasons he later made public.

Lee told Utah’s KSL Newsradio that he had a great conversation with Trump, when he told the president his “consumer freedom” amendment had been weakened and that he wasn’t sure that he could support the bill.

“He was encouraging to me and said, you know, ‘Just see what changes you can make to it,’ ” Lee said.

Lee and McConnell did not talk over the weekend, but Lee spoke twice to Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip.

Trump, who frequently takes to Twitter to announce proposals or denounce opponents, was blindsided by, of all things, a tweet.

He told reporters Tuesday he was “very surprised when the two folks came out last night, because we thought they were in fairly good shape. But they did. And, you know, everybody has their own reason.”

Moran said while he remained committed to repealing the health care law, Congress needs to make a “fresh start” on writing a replacement bill in an “open legislative process.”

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said, in a statement that followed the tweet.

In his own statement, Lee said the GOP bill does not repeal all the Obamacare tax increases and “doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

Both explanations were issued on social media.

“Twitter is a nice medium to get your message out,” Lee’s spokesman said.

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