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Portman still uneasy on Senate health bill

GOP woos with $45 billion for opioid fight

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    A spokesman for Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) was noncommittal when asked if the senator would vote for the health care bill even after money to battle the opioid epidemic was added Thursday.

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    U.S. Senator Rob Portman speaks at an event Feb. 22, at Terra State College in Fremont, Ohio.

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Even after Senate Republican leadership agreed Thursday to include $45 billion to fight the opioid epidemic in their health care bill, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) still has concerns about the legislation’s Medicaid policies.

With Thursday’s agreement, top GOP senators hope to woo moderates like Mr. Portman and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va). 

Both had requested $45 billion nationally over the next 10 years to battle the opioid crisis; and both on Tuesday said they opposed the senate bill because of “real concerns” about how proposed cuts and changes to Medicaid would affect Ohio’s ability to fight its opioid epidemic.

When asked Thursday whether Mr. Portman still opposed the bill in light of the new opioid treatment funding, press secretary Emily Benavides was noncommittal.

“Rob and some of his colleagues have requested additional funding to help those who need opioid treatment and if that funding were to be included it would be a positive step,” she said. 

“However, Rob has consistently expressed other concerns about how the bill impacts Medicaid, and he continues to fight for those priorities as well.”

Ms. Capito on Thursday called the $45 billion dollar funding boost “critical” but said she still opposes the bill.

For U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the new money does little to fix a bill he has said would “rip the rug out from under Ohio communities.”

“Simply throwing money at the problem won’t mean a thing if Ohio doesn’t have a Medicaid program to get people covered,” Mr. Brown said Thursday. “You simply don’t treat an epidemic with a federal grant. Governor[John] Kasich said it best when he said ‘it’s like spitting in the ocean.’”

At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Kasich, a Republican, called the Senate bill “unacceptable” and said that he has repeatedly expressed his concerns to Mr. Portman.

The governor also has warned him against supporting the bill in exchange for additional grant money to address the opioid epidemic.

Without ensuring long-term access to health care, Mr. Kasich told Mr. Portman, “a few billion dollars on opioids” is “like spitting in the ocean.”

Contact Jacob Stern at jstern@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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