U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says as many as 78 Americans overdose on heroin or prescription painkillers every day.
“I’m from the state of West Virginia where it is a particularly acute issue,” Burwell says. “But it is a problem all over the nation and the governors have been very active partners.”
The National Governors Association summer meeting is underway today in Des Moines. Forty-five of the nation’s governors signed a “compact” this week, pledging to encourage treatment and recovery for addicts. They agreed to issue warnings about the danger of over-prescribing painkillers, too. Burwell says there appears to be a growing recognition this is a public health issue.
“The real dynamic, changing thing we need right now is an ability to get the states the resources they need to actually treat people,” Burwell says, “so our law enforcement officials are not the point of treatment in terms of overdose time and time again.”
Burwell’s also the head of the federal agency in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act. She visited a Fort Dodge hospital Thursday afternoon to discuss health care access. Burwell says about 14 percent of rural Americans do not have insurance, compared to a 22 percent uninsured rate in rural America before the law took effect.
“Here at Fort Dodge what we see is the example of how we can make even more progress,” Burwell says, “especially in the areas of affordability and increasing quality.”
Burwell praised UnityPoint Health in Fort Dodge for joining an “accountable care organization” that has emphasized regular check-ups and health screenings. Those steps have reduced the most expensive kind of treatment: emergency room visits.
Burwell told reporters in Fort Dodge her agency would investigate complaints from Iowa health care providers who say they aren’t being paid in a timely fashion for the care they provide Medicaid patients.
Federal officials gave the go-ahead for a change sought by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s administration. Since April 1, care for Iowa Medicaid patients is now monitored and managed by three private, out-of-state companies that control how much can be charged and when bills are paid.