RICHMOND — Ed Gillespie, though still reticent on GOP plans to overhaul Obamacare, on Wednesday suggested he would like to see funding added to address the nation’s opioid crisis.
The Republican nominee for Virginia governor said efforts by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to add opioid funding to the Senate bill could advance his own plan for addressing addiction in Virginia.
“I had a conversation with Rob Portman, who’s a friend, who’s been a champion on this in the Congress,” Gillespie said. “And he is working to get funding for combating opioids in the Senate plan. . . . They’re working on the plan. Knowing Rob — I know how effective he is — I wouldn’t be surprised if that ended up back in there.”
Gillespie made the remark at a campaign stop at a Richmond drug-recovery facility, where he touted an opioid plan he had rolled out a day earlier. His comment came in response to a question about whether there was anything in the Republican health-care bills that could further his plan.
But he avoided commenting on the Senate bill as a whole.
“Do you have it?” he said, laughing, when asked where he stood on it. “I don’t either.”
Gillespie has not taken a stand on the House bill, although he has expressed “concerns” about it, which he repeated Wednesday. He said he thinks Virginia and other states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act should not be “punished” for being “fiscally responsible.” He also wants protections for people with preexisting medical conditions. And he wants costs to come down.
Gillespie appeared at The Healing Place, a residential recovery facility, along with John Adams, the Republican candidate for attorney general. They used the visit to draw attention to his plan to stem opioid addiction, which now kills more Virginians than car crashes and gun violence combined, as Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard noted at the event.
Gillespie’s proposal ranges from philosophical pronouncements — “Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing” and “Recognize multiple pathways to recovery” — to highly specific, nuts-and-bolts prescriptions, such as, “Encourage the use of [health-care] navigators to assist front-line nonprofits and other charitable institutions who help individuals seek treatment.”
Other aspects of his plan include:
●“Work to expand same day services for recovery from substance use disorders and co-occurring related disorders.
●“Encourage our higher education system to assist students in recovery or those struggling with addiction through the opening of sober dorms and collegiate recovery programs.
●“Ensure any Virginians on probation or parole can seek help in obtaining treatment through their probation or parole officer without fear of further prosecution or incarceration.
●“Encourage the establishment of additional drug courts.
●“Reform drug laws to ensure penalties align with the crime committed.”
Gillespie said costs of the plan would probably be covered by savings generated when addicts are diverted from jails — Leonard said it costs $42,000 a year to lock someone up in Chesterfield — to programs like The Healing Place, which costs just over $7,000 a year.
Gillespie is seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who ran on a promise to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act but has been blocked by the GOP-controlled legislature.
His Democratic opponent is Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who supported expansion and contends that would have done more than Gillespie’s plan to address opioid addiction. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, also supported the addition of a new addiction-services benefit to the state’s 1 million Medicaid patients. It took effect April 1.
“This administration has worked hard to address gaps in mental health and substance-abuse coverage through focusing on intervention and recognizing there are multiple pathways to recovery,” Northam said in a written statement. “I’m glad Ed has decided to come to the table and endorse this important work. Unfortunately, he still refuses to support expanding Medicaid, which could provide $300 million a year for mental health and substance-abuse programs.”