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Senator Hassan Pushes for Continued Focus on Substance Misuse Epidemic During Nomination Hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary, Attorney General Xavier Becerra

Senator Hassan Discussed Funding for State Opioid Response Grants, Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment

WASHINGTON – During a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) questioned Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Senator Hassan discussed the importance of continuing to support New Hampshire’s efforts to combat the substance misuse epidemic and implementing the surprise medical billing legislation that she worked to pass into law. Senator Hassan also addressed new COVID-19 variants.


You can watch Senator Hassan’s questioning here.


Substance Misuse


Senator Hassan began her questioning by discussing the need to continue supporting efforts to combat substance misuse. “I want to start with talking to you about the opioid epidemic. As you know, it has devastated communities all across my state,” said Senator Hassan. “Since 2017, I have worked with colleagues to secure billions of dollars in State Opioid Response grants.”


The State Opioid Response grant program prioritizes additional funding for the hardest-hit states, which has included New Hampshire. Through the program, New Hampshire has received more than $86 million in funding to address the substance misuse epidemic.


“This [State Opioid Response] funding has enabled states to expand access to life-saving treatment and services for those struggling with substance misuse, and we are finally beginning to see results with death rates decreasing,” said Senator Hassan. “But I am deeply concerned that hard-won progress is in jeopardy because the hardest-hit states – including New Hampshire – are at serious risk of a dramatic cut in State Opioid Response grant levels under the program’s current funding formula.”


Senator Hassan asked Attorney General Becerra, “If confirmed, will you commit to working with me and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to ensure that states do not experience a dramatic cut in State Opioid Response grant funding, a cut that could jeopardize our efforts to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic.”


Attorney General Becerra responded, “Absolutely, you have that commitment.”


Senator Hassan also discussed barriers to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder. “One major hurdle that keeps people who have substance use disorder from accessing the support and treatment that they need is the existence of the so-called the x-waiver, the requirement that doctors who want to prescribe medication-assisted treatment receive a waiver, or essentially permission, in order to prescribe buprenorphine,” said Senator Hassan.


Senator Hassan is leading bipartisan efforts to eliminate this waiver requirement and asked Attorney General Becerra to work with her on this.


“First, thank you for the work that you and Senator Murkowski have done on this issue,” said Attorney General Becerra. “As you said, President Biden is supportive of moving forward…I think there’s a commitment on the part of this administration to make sure we’re providing that treatment that is indispensable for so many families.”


Surprise Medical Billing


In the government funding bill that was signed into law last year, Senator Hassan successfully led bipartisan efforts with Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) and colleagues to help end the practice of surprise medical billing. “It was a great example of the type of bipartisan work that can be accomplished in the Congress when we work together to find commonsense solutions,” said Senator Hassan.


The legislation calls for the administration to implement the fix by January 2022, and Senator Hassan called for Attorney General Becerra to “commit to working with us on a bipartisan basis to ensure that, one year from now, the rules issued by HHS include strong protections for consumers that reflect the priorities and intent of our legislation.” Attorney General Becerra agreed to do so.


COVID-19 Variants


Senator Hassan also discussed the new COVID-19 variants and the need to “continue research and surveillance efforts so that we can continue to develop effective treatments and vaccines.” Attorney General Becerra discussed the importance of these efforts and supporting scientists’ research.