Opioids: A new report suggests Medicaid fraud is helping drive epidemic

WASHINGTON — A new congressional report suggests that Medicaid is helping drive the nation’s opioid crisis by making it easier for enrollees to abuse and then resell the highly addictive painkillers.At least 1,072 people have been convicted or charged nationwide since 2010 for improperly using Medicaid to obtain prescription opioids, some of which were then resold on the nation’s streets, according to the report by Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.The number of criminal defendants increased 18 percent in the four years after Medicaid expanded under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the report said.“I’m not making the claim that this is just because of Medicaid expansion … this phenomenon happened way before Medicaid expansion,” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the committee’s chairman, said during a hearing on Wednesday.’

But, “this is an unintended consequence,” he said.The committee’s top Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, was ill with the flu and missed the hearing. But she took issue with the report. “This idea that Medicaid expansion is fueling the rise in opioid deaths is total hogwash,” McCaskill said in prepared remarks. “It is not supported by the facts. And I am concerned that this committee is using taxpayer dollars to push out this misinformation to advance a political agenda.”

The report highlights a number of ways that Medicaid recipients are abusing the program to obtain opioids. The criminal activities range from beneficiaries simply selling opioids they obtained through the Medicaid program to fraud involving Medicaid reimbursement.At Wednesday’s hearing, experts described, in often gruesome detail, the lengths to which patients often go to get the drugs.

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