In N.H., Price Says Trump Is 'All In' On Solving The Opioid Epidemic

May 10, 2017

Secretary Tom Price, flanked by Governor Chris Sununu and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, during a listening session in Concord.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

After visiting Michigan and West Virginia, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price swung through Concord and Manchester Wednesday on a ‘listening tour’ regarding the opioid epidemic. Price spent about an hour at the State House meeting in private with treatment providers, families affected by opioid misuse and first responders.

At a press conference afterwards, he called the visit an opportunity to see what’s working in the field, and said Washington is taking action.

“The Department is all in, the President is all in. He has such passion for this issue, because he knows the misery and the suffering that has occurred across this land, and wants to help, help solve it,” said Price.

He pointed to the recent allotment of $3.1 million to New Hampshire as evidence of the federal government’s resolve--and said more money to fight opioid misuse is on the way.

Price also defended the American Health Care Act, which was passed by House Republicans earlier this month. Critics argue that bill’s elimination of the Medicaid expansion program will make getting addiction treatment harder for low income residents. Price, though, says the bill will give everyone the kind of coverage they want.

Protesters greeted Sec. Price, concerned about his support for the American Health Care Act.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

“I think it is important to step back and say is the Medicaid program the most appropriate program for every individual in that economic setting?” said Price. “Is there a better way to provide coverage? Is there a better way to provide services?”

Those aren’t just rhetorical questions as Senators now take up the health care bill. For his part, Governor Chris Sununu spoke with some optimism about what lawmakers in Washington may craft.

“Failure to reform our healthcare system in the United States is not an option,” said Sununu. “It is absolutely not an option. I appreciate the forward progress that the House made. We have to move that ball forward. I do have reservations, in some areas where you look at the details, severe reservations about what was passed, but people have to understand this is simply one part of the process.”

Sununu didn’t provide details on his reservations. But for Democrats, the message they wanted to make clear to Secretary Price was that repealing Medicaid expansion in the midst of an opioid epidemic would be a mistake. Representative Annie Kuster says she and treatment providers repeatedly brought this up during the private listening session.

“Our community is at risk, and we need to make it very clear to Secretary Price and others in this administration that we need access to treatment and recovery through the Medicaid expansion,” said Kuster.

Price was joined in Concord by Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Trump and one of the administration's fiercest defenders. She says the opioid epidemic is one of the rare areas where both Democrats and Republicans can and should agree.

“We look at this as a non-partisan issue in need of a bipartisan solution. And we are working with people on both sides of the aisle in Washington and within each of the states to do exactly that,” said Conway.

How to craft that solution and a new health care law, however, continues to divide the parties.