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Reality Check: Is the state giving more money for opioid treatment?

"We'll make very good use of that funding, but it's one-time funding. The problems that we're talking about don't just go away," said Brian Ingraham, CEO of Vaya Health. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

The state recently received a federal grant for $31 million over two years to treat opioid addicts. The new state budget also includes $10 million over two years meant for opioid treatment. However, some health care professionals are concerned about what's being lost.

At a recent opioid summit in Raleigh, state leaders spoke about the funding.

"We're happy to have that additional funding, but it is really only the start of the kinds of funding I think we need to turn the tide," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary.

"That's a step forward. Are they enough? They're not enough. But is it progress? It is. We need to both appreciate progress and demand more," said Attorney General Josh Stein.

The funding is meant to help people without insurance.

"If you have Medicaid, that treatment is covered by Medicaid. Private insurance? Treatment's covered. So, this is really for the folks who are falling in the gap," said Cohen.

The millions of dollars will go to the state's LME/MCOs. They pay for mental health and substance use services. They refund Medicaid care and pay for care for people who don't have an insurance. The state splits North Carolina into seven regions. Vaya Health serves 23 counties in Western North Carolina. The LME/MCOs are waiting to learn how the state will divide the new money.

"We'll make very good use of that funding, but it's one-time funding. The problems that we're talking about don't just go away," said Brian Ingraham, CEO of Vaya Health.

In a new state budget, the General Assembly slashed Vaya's funding for non-Medicaid patients by more than $14 million over the next two years. That comes on top of cuts from the last two years. Vaya projects the cuts to total about $65 million.

"That's equivalent to a year's worth of funding. So, it's very substantial," said Ingraham.

Already, Ingraham's pausing or ending services.

"Things like our ability to purchase Narcan are done, OK? Over with," he told a group during a session at the Opioid Summit.

A Vaya spokesperson said there are other programs or plans in jeopardy near Buncombe County:

  1. "Substance use recovery housing: Vaya will no longer be able to help fund two Buncombe County recovery houses (houses do have additional funding sources, but still reduces overall funds).
  2. Peer-run recovery centers: Vaya will no longer be able to help fund Asheville’s Sunrise Community recovery center (again – center has more funding sources than just Vaya – still a reduction in center funds).
  3. Project SEARCH: Vaya will reduce funding for Project SEARCH, which provides real-life work experience for young people with developmental disabilities, at two sites: Mission Hospital in Asheville and Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.
  4. Pisgah Legal Services partnership: Vaya will no longer fund a program with Asheville-based Pisgah Legal Services to help homeless individuals obtain disability benefits and help people maintain safe, stable housing."

For this reason, it's complicated for Ingraham to answer whether Vaya will have more funding or less to treat Opioids.

"The biggest problem we have with funding for services for that population is the large number of individuals who do not have Medicaid, which is just a tremendous barrier to access to treatment," said Ingraham.

Gov. Roy Cooper is fighting to expand Medicaid to make it available for an additional 600,000 people.

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