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Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die as a result of an opioid overdose. Beyond the human toll, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion per year. Based on any metric, the misuse of and addiction to opioids- which include prescription pain medication, heroin, and fentanyl- is impacting the health, social, and economic well-being of our nation.

In response, last year the federal government declared opioids a public health emergency and announced it was focusing efforts to combat the crisis on five key priorities: (1) improving access to treatment and recovery services; (2) promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs; (3) strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance; (4) providing support for new research on pain and addiction; and (5) advancing better practices for pain management.

As for Congress, following months of committee hearings and markups, last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted 396-14 to pass the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act. The 100-page bill (which is also known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act) combined the legislative language of 58 individual opioid-focused bills recently passed by bipartisan majorities in the House.

Included in the bill are provisions focused on opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services across the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Specific provisions include:

  • establishing a Medicaid demonstration project to increase provider treatment capacity for substance use disorders,
  • requiring the establishment of drug management programs for at-risk Medicaid beneficiaries,
  • exempting substance use disorder telehealth services from specified Medicare requirements,
  • aligning privacy regulations for substance use disorder patients (42 CFR Part 2) with existing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations,
  • requiring the Medicare examination for new enrollees to include opioid use disorder screening,
  • requiring Medicare coverage for services provided by certified opioid treatment programs, and
  • mandating electronic prescribing for all controlled substances under Medicare beginning in 2020.

With the support of President Trump and the White House, the bipartisan bill now heads to the Senate where the committees of jurisdiction are already working to push companion legislation to the Senate floor for a vote. According to Senate leaders, if all goes according to plan, they should be able to send a final bill to the President’s desk to be signed into law by the end of the summer.

For healthcare providers, the ultimate impact of this potential legislation remains to be seen. But based on the content of the House bill, it is clear that members of Congress believe that ensuring providers have access to accurate health and prescription information through the use of health information technology tools- such as electronic health records, prescription drug monitoring programs, and electronic prescribing- will be a key part of combatting this crisis.

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Chris Emper headshot

Chris Emper

Government Affairs Advisor, NextGen Healthcare

Chris Emper, JD, MBA, is government affairs advisor at NextGen Healthcare and president of Emper Healthcare Advisors—a health IT industry advisory and consulting services firm in Washington, D.C. that specializes in helping healthcare providers and technology companies successfully navigate and comply with complex regulations and value-based reimbursement models. Prior to forming Emper Healthcare Advisors in 2016, Chris was vice president of Government Affairs at NextGen Healthcare (NASDAQ: NXGN) and Chair of the Electronic Health Record Association (EHRA) Public Policy committee.

An expert in The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and The 21st Century Cures Act, Chris is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and has written or appeared in articles in publications such as Politico, Health Data Management, Accountable Care News, and Medical Economics. From 2016-2019, Chris served as Chair of the HIMSS Government Relations Roundtable, a leading coalition of health IT government affairs professionals.

Prior to joining NextGen Healthcare in 2013, Chris served as a Domestic Policy Advisor for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential Campaign, where he advised the campaign on policy issues including healthcare, technology, and innovation. He holds a law degree and an MBA from Villanova University and a BA from Boston College.