The White House proposes using capital punishment to curb the opioid epidemic

  

Congress, government agencies, foundations, communities, and health care providers have been developing and implementing policies to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic for years. Nurses are on the frontline and in the trenches treating chronic pain, substance misuse, and mental health issues. Many health related policies and regulations are still ineffective in fixing the opioid epidemic, but we do know that using a criminal justice route to solve a public health problem will not succeed in its intent. But just this week, President Trump called for the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, for “certain drug dealers” in order to curb the opioid epidemic.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) opposes both capital punishment and nurse participation in capital punishment. Capital punishment and penalizing those convicted of certain classes of crimes by killing them violates the most basic human right, the right to life and liberty. The ethical standards of the profession obligates nurses to protect human rights and practice with respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every. Instead ANA advocates  for increasing access to Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), access to mental health services, and patient centered education.

The Trump administrations plan also includes a federally backed ad campaign to prevent non-prescribed opioid use. Education needs to extend past prevention measure to include safe use, storage, and disposal. Proper disposal of unused pills ensures that fewer opioids reach unintended persons and markets, and in turn, less misuse of narcotics.

Health care providers, public health officials, and law enforcement need to work together to implement proven policies that help all individuals and communities. Instead of taking a criminal justice path, such as the failed drug policies of the “just say no” campaign, which history has shown to perpetuate public health issues, officials need to take an interdisciplinary approach to address the underlying health, economic, social, and educational causes of drug use in both urban and rural communities. ANA is actively advocating for nurses through advising federal agencies, supporting federal legislation, and connecting members with their representatives to ensure the voices of nurses are heard.

A Budget to Nowhere

  

 

The good news is that the budget unveiled Monday by the Trump administration is dead on arrival. The two-year agreement reached by Congress last week makes this budget even less relevant than most presidential budgets, and more importantly the congressional spending deal funds a number of crucial health programs that were in danger of losing funds. The bad news is that the President’s budget seeks to normalize policy proposals that would either cripple or eliminate altogether a number of crucial federal programs that provide critical aid for nurses and their patients.

Nursing Workforce Development Programs covered under Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act would be particularly hard hit, with cuts of almost 65% at a time when nurses nationwide desperately need this funding to continue providing quality care. The budget slashes $145 billion overall, eliminating all but one program under Title VIII (the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program, which would be funded at $83 million). As a result of this drastic and misguided approach, the Nursing Community Coalition (of which ANA is a member) announced their strong opposition earlier today.

Even when the President’s budget takes one step forward by allocating new funds, it simultaneously takes two steps back, as with funding to combat the opioid crisis. While the budget proposal would allocate $13 billion, experts estimate that at least $32 billion is needed to address this lethal epidemic. This new funding would also come at the expense of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would lose $1 billion and suffer particularly deep cuts to programs aimed at reducing chronic disease, bolstering public health preparedness, and overseeing occupational safety and health.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the budget embraces the approach of the already-rejected Graham-Cassidy legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. This approach would implement massive cuts to Medicaid and eliminate its state-based expansion (which 33 states to date have chosen to embrace). It would also end the subsidies that help a vast majority of Americans who obtained health coverage under the ACA-implemented marketplace pay for their premiums.

Rather than promoting a misguided and out-of-touch budget, ANA urges the administration to instead focus on more pressing priorities, including helping Congress reach an agreement on those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as efforts to stabilize the health insurance marketplace following the repeal of the individual mandate late last year. Too many of the ideas included in this budget have been rejected by bipartisan congressional majorities. Like those ideas, this budget should similarly be put aside.

Congress Passes Bipartisan Spending Measure with Funding for Critical Health Programs

  

Following a brief, overnight government shutdown, President Trump this morning signed a spending measure and continuing resolution which reopens the government and provides funding through March 23rd while setting broad spending levels through FY 2019. The measure provides roughly $500 billion in additional funding over the next two years, including roughly $140 billion in additional non-defense domestic spending, a similar increase in defense spending, and roughly $90 billion in federal relief funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida, which were pummeled by devastating hurricanes last summer, and for those impacted by the California wildfires. The bill also waives the debt ceiling until March 1, 2019.

Crucially, the spending bill provides additional funding for some of the nation’s most important public health programs. It provides $7 billion in funding for the nation’s 2,600 community health centers, which provided care to 26.5 million Americans in 2016; this was a critical need and the $7 billion in this bill represents roughly 2 years of federal funding for the nation’s centers.

The spending measure also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another 4 years, meaning that the program will now be fully funded at the federal level for 10 years. CHIP provides healthcare coverage for roughly nine million American children and is a critical provider of healthcare services. The measure also provides an additional $2 billion in funding to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to better manage their health system and prevents automatic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, while eliminating the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The measure critically provides $6 billion in funding over the next two FYs to fight the opioid epidemic.

With a large portion of the nation’s fiscal policy taken care of, the House and Senate have now cleared their plates to work on a solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, better known as DACA. The Trump administration plans on ending the DACA Program on March 5th, giving Congress roughly four weeks to come up with a solution to shield hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. ANA supports the DACA program and urges the House and Senate to quickly come to an agreement to keep these young Americans in the country. The Senate has already taken up a measure this morning to begin debate on the fate of DACA; ANA will continue to monitor this important issue.

We applaud Congress for coming to a bipartisan, long-term spending deal which ensures that several of the nation’s most important healthcare programs receive long-term funding. CHIP, the nation’s community health centers, and the VA all provide critical healthcare access to some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and Congress should be commended for recognizing their importance.

ANA also applauds Congress for providing additional funding to areas hit hard by this summer’s devastating hurricanes and by the wildfires in California; the American Nurses Foundation teamed with the Texas Nurses Association in August to raise donations for victims, and numerous nurses went down to Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean to help out. The spending measure signed into law this morning, however, only provides funding for the government through March 23rd; until then, members of Congress will continue to work to hammer out appropriations for federal agencies and programs for the remainder of FY 2018 and FY 2019. We strongly urge you to make your voices heard and let your member of Congress know that funding for the nation’s healthcare programs is critical to the overall health of the nation.

Photo Credit: Tom Brenner/The New York Times