Concern for Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis as congress begins effort to end Obamacare

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Some Pennsylvania health officials have concerns for ending the opioid crisis in the commonwealth after the U.S senate pulls an all-nighter at the Capitol.

The senate voted 51 to 48 to pass a budget resolution in its first step to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Dauphin County officials express concern for what that means for those battling addiction, as well as for taxpayers.

It's no secret Pennsylvania has a heroin problem.

Dauphin County commissioner George Hartwick III said "this heroin and opioid epidemic has been something that has affected all walks of life, through the expansion of medical assistance, we've been given an opportunity to be able to provide behavioral health services

Funding to help the bottom line at the Dauphin County Department of Human Services is made possible by a portion of the Affordable Care Act.

"We're having 18,000 more people being able to be covered through Medicaid expansion, has eased the county general base fund for drug and alcohol services and allowed us to provide more access to treatment," Hartwick said.

The U.S. Senate took the first steps to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

"We're really concerned about the effects that it may have on individuals who are engaged in active treatment, and who may need future treatment that may not be eligible as a result of repealing portions of that act," Hartwick said.

Pennsylvania's pending budget crisis doubles Hartwick's concern for continued drug treatment. Hartwick oversees the county's Department of Human Services.

"You talk about state cuts, which can ill afford to happen, on top of restricted access of federal dollars through Medicaid expansion. You could be running into a problem that clearly is going to to be costing way more both socially, and to taxpayers," Hartwick said.

Hartwick believes the devil will be in the details of what is repealed and replaced. He's concerned about the effects of what will happen if the funding goes away, especially as many in prison are affected by drugs and alcohol.

"When they go into prison, 100 percent of those costs are on county general fund taxpayers, so the ability to cover individuals for treatment has been hopefully able to alleviate some of those concerns," Hartwick said.

One concern is breaking the cycle of repeat offenders for drug offenses.

"This is a bi-partisan issue, they know the investment in behavioral health and access to treatment services is far better to pay for than building of jail cells, and this is what this debate is going to come down to," Hartwick said.