Opioids: The Crisis of Our Lifetime

Eric Hargan is about to get a demotion, and he is just fine with that.

The acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is more than thrilled to go back to the position he originally held. President Donald Trump tapped him to lead the agency after Tom Price resigned when scrutiny of his travel habits revealed a taste for the excess.

“I was confirmed for my job as deputy secretary, and four days later, I was appointed to be the acting secretary,” he said of the agency that oversees drug development, public health efforts, Obamacare, and food safety.

Alex Azar is the president’s new choice to run HHS. Hargan sat for this interview as Azar faced his first Senate confirmation hearing on Nov. 29. Hargan has held the position since early October, but this is certainly not his first rodeo at HHS. From 2003 to 2007, he served there under then-President George W. Bush.

Hargan is a man grounded in his family’s roots in Mound City, a small southern Illinois town just across the Ohio River from Kentucky where his parents not only advocated for a lifetime in public service but also led by example.

He said: “I grew up on a farm, my father held different local elected offices from county commissioner to school board, and my mother worked in a variety of health care roles throughout her life; first at St. Mary’s hospital, which is no longer there, and then at the Cairo Community Health Clinic. All total, a career serving her community’s health care that spanned 58 years.”

It is a background that shaped his journey from a town of 700 to the center of power and wealth in America. And whether he is serving as acting secretary or deputy secretary, Hargan sees his role at HHS as one that digs deep to cut bureaucracy, roll back antiquated regulations, and mold the agency to become more accountable in its mission to serve public health.

He speaks about the need to address the opioid crisis, a widespread problem that has impacted not only his own small town but also the cities and suburbs in between—on both coasts. He said:

I have heard so many stories of parents whose children who live a pattern of overdoses, sometimes day after day. One of the things in the agency we want to do is to clarify that both doctors and hospitals can share that information with parents and family members when their loved ones are incapacitated or in immediate danger from an opioid overdose. It is an empowerment designed to assist the families and the neighborhoods and communities who are on the front lines of the epidemic.

Hargan faced reporters at the White House almost three weeks ago to discuss Trump’s decision to donate his third-quarter salary to HHS in order to combat the opioid crisis. Hargan said the donation would be used for the planning and design of a large-scale public awareness campaign about opioid addiction.

“His decision to donate his salary is a tribute to his compassion, to his patriotism, and his sense of duty to the American people,” he said.

According to Hargan, Trump has stressed that opioids are an American crisis and wants all hands on deck to finds solutions. Hargan notes: “When the president tells us to focus, we focus, and we have a trillion-dollar plus department. Even just shifting our focus a little bit—a lot can get done, if we’re serious.”

When Bush took office, he focused on the issues surrounding AIDS. “The president’s emergency plan for AIDS relief, his particular passion in that for HIV/AIDS ended up, by all accounts, saving millions of lives in sub-Saharan Africa,” Hargan said.

And Hargan added: “President Trump is focusing on the opioid crisis, again, like the AIDS crisis in Africa, the opioids crisis in the U.S. is a real crisis. It has rolled on from where I grew up to everywhere now. It crosses all demographics, all races, and all socioeconomic backgrounds. It is the crisis of our time and one we are laser-focused on.”

That is his mission, whether he is acting secretary or deputy secretary. “We will get the job done,” he says.

The post Opioids: The Crisis of Our Lifetime appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Congress Should Revamp Children’s Health Insurance Program, Not Just Reauthorize It

We all know the feeling of falling into the same dinner routine.

You’ve been making spaghetti every Tuesday night for the past two months. Today, though, you have the best intentions of making a unique, delicious meal. Then, that last meeting runs later than you expected, and by the time you make your long commute and run to the grocery store, it’s late, and it looks like it’s time for another spaghetti dinner.

Congress knows the feeling of a routine, too, but instead of making another spaghetti dinner without a second thought, it’s planning to spend billions of dollars—again—on a health program without addressing its structural problems.

In this case, the Children’s Health Insurance Program is at issue. CHIP was created 20 years ago to address the high number of uninsured low-income children. Though it has given children coverage, CHIP has significant room to improve the range of options available to the program’s young enrollees.

Every few years, Congress re-evaluates the program before it renews funding. But this time, funding expired on Sept. 30. Recently, the House took a floor vote on a bill that, for the most part, simply affirmed the status quo.

Congress spent the summer trying and failing to undo Obamacare’s damage to the individual health insurance market.  CHIP was also damaged by Obamacare, and Congress so far has missed the opportunity to fully undo the damage there, as well.

For example, Congress could have reversed some of the Obamacare damage to CHIP by eliminating its Maintenance of Effort (MOE) provision, which requires states to maintain whatever upper eligibility limits they had for CHIP in order to receive funds. In New York, this means that the state has to provide coverage for children in families of four making up to $99,630, or it loses CHIP funds.

A better approach would be to target federal dollars at those who need it most and give states flexibility to manage their program. The House bill waits three years to give states flexibility to manage their populations.

What’s more, Congress still needs to address the underlying structural problems within CHIP.

An official report of the Government Accountability Office revealed that CHIP children are three times more likely to have difficulty obtaining a referral to a specialist than their privately insured peers. They are also more likely to use the emergency department.

This points to a fundamental access problem within the program—and a problem that is solvable.

CHIP was designed to give states flexibility, in hopes that children would have access to a variety of health care options. But in many states, the result has been that CHIP kids end up at the mercy of their state’s bureaucratic decisions.

For example, a parent may wish to use a health savings account or direct primary care, or get assistance toward their employer-based insurance plan. But under CHIP, that decision is left up to the states, rather than the parents who are closest to the medical needs of the children.

One way to solve this challenge would be to restructure funding within the program so that parents, instead of states, are put in charge of the decision about where their CHIP dollars are spent.

Not only would that give children access to better health care options, it also would help Republicans to move toward their broader goal of undoing the damage of Obamacare and moving toward a freer system for all.

 

 

 

 

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