House, Senate vote down bill that would tighten limits on MaineCare coverage for methadone, Suboxone

The State House in Augusta.
The State House in Augusta.
Posted June 03, 2013, at 5:02 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House and Senate on Monday turned down a bill aimed at further limiting Medicaid coverage for drug addiction treatments that rely on prescribing methadone and Suboxone.

The House voted 79-60 against the bill, LD 908, which would eliminate all exceptions to 24-month limits in place for methadone and Suboxone treatments covered by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The Senate voted 20-14 against the measure.

The votes came days after lawmakers rejected another bill, LD 802, that would have entirely eliminated MaineCare coverage for methadone and Suboxone, which are commonly used to treat addictions to heroin and prescription painkillers.

Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, said policymakers need to encourage addiction treatments that don’t involve replacing an addiction to one drug with an addiction to another.

“We have a program that’s largely ignoring on some level the component that could actually work, which is counseling and treatment not necessarily involving just taking another drug,” Dickerson said. “I hope that moving forward as a Legislature, we’re courageous enough to actually have that discussion about what real treatment and real recovery actually means, that it isn’t simply maintaining an individual on another drug.”

The state has had a 24-month limit on MaineCare coverage for methadone and Suboxone treatments since the start of this year, when a provision passed last May as part of a supplemental budget took effect. The treatments came as part of a budget that scaled back eligibility for MaineCare and a range of other services covered by the low-income insurance program, including coverage for prescription anti-smoking medications.

During House debate Monday on LD 908, Democrats reiterated their opposition to the two-year limit on methadone and Suboxone treatments, much less a measure that would eliminate all exceptions to the rule, which require approval from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“There is no reason to place a two-year limit” on treatments, said Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock.

The state spent about $9 million for methadone treatment in 2010 and another $7 million to transport patients to clinics, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Maine was expected to save $1.36 million between 2013 and 2015 from limiting the length of methadone treatments. The state could realize other potential savings from the cost of transporting patients receiving methadone treatments.

At the end of 2012, 4,760 drug-addicted Mainers were undergoing methadone maintenance treatment to fight opiate addiction, and 3,119 of them — more than 65 percent — received MaineCare coverage, according to DHHS.

Another measure pending before the Legislature this spring would increase the number of federally qualified centers authorized to provide methadone treatment so the state could realize savings from reduced patient transportation costs. Currently, Maine has just nine methadone clinics, including only one north of Bangor.

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