U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) applauded the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for awarding $4,509,000 in grant funding to 27 health centers in Oregon, nine of which are in Walden’s Oregon Second District.

Health centers in Boardman, Klamath Falls, Medford, La Pine, Prineville, Hood River, Grants Pass and Enterprise will receive a combined total of $1,503,000 in federal funds, which will help combat the opioid epidemic by enabling local health centers to increase availability of mental health and substance use disorder services, said a press release.

“The opioid and substance use disorder crisis has hit every community across our great state and nation. Combating this deadly epidemic is no small task and requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Walden.

“This money is just one important aspect of the fight. Combined with the initiatives in the SUPPORT for Patents and Communities Act — my bill that became law last year — other grant funding our state has received, the hard work of medical professionals and law enforcement working on the front lines of this crisis, and continued support from the administration, we are doing more than ever before to get help to our communities. As Republican leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I will continue to work hard and lead the way on combating the opioid and substance use disorder problem,” he said.

Walden’s press release stated he has been “one of the nation’s leaders in combating the opioid crisis, working to pass historic legislation to combat opioid addiction, and investigating bad actors who are enabling the crisis to spread.”

Details of the bills

H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act, is a bipartisan bill that will help overall efforts to combat the opioid crisis by advancing treatment and recovery initiatives, improving prevention, protecting communities, and bolstering efforts to fight deadly illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

On June 22, 2018, the House passed H.R. 6 by a vote of 396 to 14. On Sept. 17, the Senate passed an amended version of H.R. 6 by a vote of 99-1. On Sept. 28, the House passed a final bipartisan, bicameral agreement on H.R. 6 by a vote of 393 to 8. On Oct. 3, the Senate passed the final version of H.R. 6 by a vote of 98-1. The final bill was signed into law by President Trump on Oct. 24, 2018.

Originally introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Walden,  Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), and Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the underlying text of H.R. 6 included several Medicaid, Medicare, and public health reforms to help combat the opioid crisis, which were advanced through regular order by the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. In addition, H.R. 6 included numerous provisions that were previously passed by the House of Representatives.

H.R. 6082, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act

This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and cosponsored by Walden, expands the circumstances under which medical records relating to substance use disorders can be disclosed to healthcare providers, plans, and health care clearing houses, thereby enabling medical professionals to access that information when treating patients. Such disclosures must be made in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) privacy regulations and the bill prohibits any entity from discriminating against an individual on the basis of information contained in substance abuse medical records.

This bill uses the same model that other federal privacy laws have, which is that exchanging health care information within the health care system produces better outcomes for that patient. On June 20, 2018, the House passed H.R. 6082 by a vote of 357 to 57.

‘A collaborative, bipartisan process’

According to a statement from the Energy and Commerce Republicans (E&C):

“This latest effort to combat the opioid crisis follows the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act last Congress, the $4 billion appropriated in 2018 the omnibus earlier this year to help combat the opioid crisis, as well as the $6.7 billion included in the recent Defense-Labor-HHS appropriations package to boost programs that fight, treat, and stop substance abuse, and support access to mental health services.

“Taken together, this is the most significant congressional effort against a single drug crisis in history.”

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