TOP NEWS All policy eyes remained fixed on Washington as the issue of access to care moves to center stage. We are closely monitoring the debate over health insurance coverage and will be in Washington the week of Feb. 27. With former Rep. Tom Price now approved as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration and Speaker Ryan are eyeing a timeframe of that week for introducing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This past week, House leaders outlined some of their ideas for replacing the ACA. Read the policy memo that leaders gave to Members ahead of the upcoming recess next week. Price, by the way, authored his own ACA replacement plan in 2015, the “Empowering Patients First Act” (EPFA). He said when nominated for the post that the impending overhaul would bear significant resemblance to his proposal. Also this week, Senate Committee Chairs met with Price, and are looking at their own proposals. Earlier, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a replacement plan of their own. Interesting to see that Matt Gallivan – from the Twin Cities and former health aide to Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) – now works for Cassidy, who has been active on these issues. Other relevant legislation of note that was introduced this week: House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced a bill that, in the event of ACA repeal, would continue to prohibit insurance plans from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch and Rep. Paulsen introduced companion bills to enhance and expand health savings accounts. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) re-introduced a bill he’s been pushing for a few years that would allow small business employers to band together through association health plans (AHPs) in order to purchase health care for their employees. The Administration also issued some ACA-related changes this week, including new rules designed to steady insurance markets. The move came a day after health insurer Humana announced that, starting next year, it would withdraw from the public marketplaces created by the ACA. The Administration also reversed the prior Administration’s plan to withhold tax refunds from those who ignore the ACA insurance requirement. Another insurance giant, Aetna, also made (good!) news this week by announcing that its private insurance plans will stop requiring doctors to seek pre-approval for particular medications – such as Suboxone – that are used to ease withdrawal symptoms and treat opioid patients. This story highlights people’s anxiety amid the policy uncertainty that comes on the heels of growth in insurance coverage for addiction treatment in recent years. In other D.C. news, rumors abound about who will be named to the important role of Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. One is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who met with the President recently to discuss combatting the drug epidemic. The other is former New Hampshire Rep. Frank Guinta, whom we met when he was active on this issue in Congress. There were some actions by the Administration on drug control policies this week. The President signed three executive orders, including one aimed at “combating transnational drug cartels.” In Congress, a bipartisan bill was introduced that seeks to crack down on illicit opioid shipments by requiring more information on packages mailed into the US. The bill is sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). And the Senate voted 100-0 to approve the President’s nomination of David Shulkin, M.D., to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin has served as VA undersecretary for health since July 2015. Finally, we also want to call out another project with which we have been involved, called Parity Track, which is soliciting complaints from consumers about violations of “parity laws,” which require insurers to cover addiction treatments at the same level they do other kinds of health care. Opioids. Combatting the opioid epidemic remains a top priority of ours. This week, Kentucky saw a scary spike in overdoses, with 52 overdoses in 32 hours in Louisville alone. The price of overdose antidote Naloxone jumped 600 percent, prompting 31 US Senators to send a letter to the manufacturer. And China blacklisted Carfentanil, closing a deadly loophole on an opioid so strong and deadly, it's been researched as a chemical weapon of warfare. A new study found that long-term opioid use could depend on who first prescribed it. The American College of Physicians published updated guidelines that say opioids, and even over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, should not be the first course of treatment for lower back pain. Doctors in Baltimore are having success using alternatives to opioids. The dentistry profession continues to look at breaking its own opioid prescribing habit. The interesting bipartisan advocacy team of Van Jones, Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy put out another video - Rewriting the Prescription on Opioid Treatment. The Washington Post editorial board addresses the “great opioid epidemic” and urges doctors to be more careful in prescribing painkillers. And the same paper had this opinion piece pointing out that the opioid epidemic could turn into a pandemic if we’re not careful. The rise in newborn drug dependence is being felt most in rural areas. The Washington Post offers a very specific state-by-state breakdown of where opioids killed the most people in 2015. And Yale researchers say we should start opioid addiction treatment in the ER. Finally, it is good to see so many Members of Congress engaged on this critical topic. The House of Representatives Bipartisan Heroin Task Force hosted a roundtable on heroin and synthetic drug abuse. You can watch a recording of the roundtable here. And an Illinois Congressman who visited our Plymouth facility updates work on heroin, opioid misuse in a new report. Women and Addiction. This year marks the 35th Anniversary of the Betty Ford Center, and, in the spirit of Mrs. Ford’s own recovery and legacy, we are focusing extra attention on women’s recovery. Cecelia Jayme, a clinical director at Hazelden in Center City, discussed this week the dangerous messages the media sends about women and alcohol. Advocacy Spotlight. The Iowa governor wants to be an example for those with alcohol addiction North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, a friend of ours, shares about her own recovery experience as she sets out to tackle addiction issues. Sheriff Karl Leonard in Virginia talks about the inspiration behind his Heroin Addiction Recovery Program. Film director Martin Scorsese tells his story of addiction, almost dying, and how that experience relates to his new movie Silence. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr is helping to fight opioid addiction. Jordin Tootoo of the Chicago Blackhawks shares about his recovery. A woman in recovery tells her story of not drinking on New Year’s Eve and offers support to everyone who is joining her. Musician Deryck Whibley of Sum 41 tells his story of alcoholism and recovery. And an Ohio pastor camps outside to raise awareness about heroin. Podcasts. Our own William Moyers shared his personal story and thoughts on recovery on a radio show podcast called Alive to Thrive. We also recently started our own podcast channel, featuring timeless voices from the past and compelling voices from today. Here’s one podcast featuring historian William White in a talk for the Betty Ford Center’s Awareness Hour in 2004, on the history of addiction treatment and recovery in America. And we even have podcasts up from this season’s most recent Awareness Hour speakers: Gary Lange, on gambling addiction; Judi Hollis, on eating disorders; and Susan Ford Bales, Mary Bono and Jerry Moe on healing families. Alcohol. In addition to painkillers and heroin, Americans have a growing alcohol problem, too. Half of youth car crash deaths involve alcohol, according to a nationwide study. Marijuana. America’s $6 billion + marijuana habit, mapped out. Some are cheering Houston’s new marijuana policy, but opponents are skeptical. Mental Health. Senators from both parties discussed which mental health and substance misuse programs should receive funding in the next appropriations cycle. Two churches in Minnesota work together to bring mental illness ‘out of the closet.’ Criminal Justice. The UMass Medical School is partnering with corrections officials across New England to study the treatment of addicted inmates while they are still behind bars, with the hope that specialized care will prevent their return to jail.