WASHINGTON — The public health emergency that President Trump ordered Thursday allows the federal government to open up a toolbox of otherwise off-limits authorities to combat the opioid addiction epidemic.
But the emergency declaration doesn't go as far as some had hoped in bringing federal resources to bear. Here's what the action does — and doesn't do.
What it does
► Allow telemedicine: Current law requires doctors who prescribe controlled substances to see their patients face-to-face. Trump's order relieves that restriction, allowing substance abuse patients in rural areas to seek treatment from doctors hours away.
► Grant flexibility: Federal rules put strings on what state and local health departments do with federal money, telling them who they can hire and how they can spend the money. An emergency could clear some of that red tape, allowing the hiring of substance abuse specialists and letting HIV/AIDS programs to also spend money on opioid treatment.
► Provide Dislocated Worker Grants: These grants are usually available only to workers who lose their jobs because of economic conditions or natural disasters. The emergency allows states to apply for grants to help people struggling with opioid addiction to get job training and placement.
► Tap the Public Health Emergency Fund: The declaration allows the Department of Health and Human Services to access a special fund Congress set up to allow a fast response to unexpected health emergencies. However, that fund has a balance of only $57,000.
What it doesn't do
► Affect patient privacy: With a presidential national emergency declaration, the government can waive patient privacy laws — and the associated paperwork burdens — that can get in the way of delivering medical care in an emergency. A public health emergency, which Trump ordered Thursday, doesn't do that.
► Eliminate the 16-bed rule: A federal rule known as the Medicaid Institutions for Mental Diseases Exclusion prohibits federal reimbursement for residential substance abuse treatment facilities of more than 16 beds, since mental hospitals have traditionally been a state responsibility. However, Trump said he would ask HHS to grant case-by-case waivers to the rule if states ask for it.
► Provide new money: Treating the opioid epidemic like a hurricane or other natural disaster — a tricky legal maneuver, to be sure — would allow access to the billions of dollars Congress is spending on disaster relief bills. Trump did not do this, so Congress still needs to appropriate money for opioids.