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O’Halleran Introduces Legislation to Expand Substance Abuse Treatment in Rural Communities

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01) introduced the Rural Developing Opioid Capacity Services (Rural DOCS) Act, legislation aimed at increasing treatment capacity of providers in the Medicaid program for individuals suffering from opioid or other substance-abuse disorders.

“My commonsense bill empowers states to make long-term improvements to their mental health and substance abuse treatment networks.  By allowing states to design systems that work for the unique needs of their communities, we can fill the current gaps in our system that lead to too many unanswered calls for help,” said Rep. O’Halleran.  “Expanding Medicaid in Arizona was a critical first step for rural communities, and now, my Rural DOCS Act takes the next step forward to ensure people with opioid or other substance abuse disorders get the treatment they need, closer to home. The sooner we can get people the help they need, the more lives we can save. Investing in this type of primary care will save taxpayer dollars and increase provider choice for communities suffering from the opioid epidemic – including Native Americans.”

The Rural DOCS Act would create a 5-year demonstration program for 10 states with high overdose rates to receive enhanced Medicaid funds to strengthen provider networks across the full continuum of care, including innovative wraparound support services for Medicaid beneficiaries.

Medicaid is the largest payer of Substance Abuse Disorder services (SUDs) in the United States. States that expanded Medicaid, including Arizona, have made important strides on improving the insured rate for those who need care. However, a key barrier that remains in many states with high rates of opioid use disorders is a lack of providers participating in Medicaid. Factors including low reimbursement rates or unfamiliarity with the Medicaid system can result in sparse networks – especially in rural communities – leaving patients with few choices for help.

Under the demonstration, states chosen for the program would receive a 90% match rate from the federal government for activities to increase treatment capacity in their Medicaid programs. States could offer technical assistance, raise provider reimbursement rates, and build provider networks to offer  innovative services like telehealth and mobile health, among other activities. Providers including hospitals, health groups, and Federally Qualified Health Centers – could receive greater incentives for providing specialized care to unique populations including babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, postpartum women, young adults, and tribal communities.

The Rural DOCS Act will be considered by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health this week as part of a legislative package related to addressing the opioid crisis.

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