The Political Exploitation of Our Most Vulnerable Citizens

Every two years, soon after the general elections begin, we see members of the House of Representatives pick their button issues on which they intend to base their re-election efforts. Remember in 2014, when suddenly every Republican House member was adamant about infectious disease reform in our healthcare system due to the Ebola outbreak? How did those efforts pan out after the election was over? They didn't. As soon as the election was over, no one really cared about reducing medical errors or hospital acquired infections transmitted just like Ebola, that kill more than 70,000 Americans each year.

Keith Rothfus was one of those Republicans. He spoke aggressively in our debates and Editorial Board interviews about how we needed to aggressively attack the “failed policies” that caused the Ebola outbreak. He blamed the President, insulted the hard working professionals at the CDC and called for travel bans that were already in place. It was pure political expedience at its worst. And after the election, his concerns disappeared.  Meanwhile, the very people that I have worked with for more than a decade to reduce medical errors (now the 3rd largest cause of death in the country) went back to their work, with no additional support or attention from Mr. Rothfus or his pals.

This year the issue du jour is opiate addiction. And Mr. Rothfus has again found a heartfelt health issue to campaign on.  In 2013, when the Johnstown Tribune Democrat asked him about the drug problem, he simply referred to addicts' capacities to invade people's homes. That was it. That's how he saw those suffering from addiction, as people that are likely to break into his home and hurt him. I remember how appalled I was when I read it.  He saw it as a “home invasion” and nothing more.

Fast forward to 2016.  This year, the Senate passed a large piece of legislation that begins to addresses our nation's greatest and most expensive preventable healthcare issue - addiction. But instead of advocating for it in the house, Mr. Rothfus, like the Johnstown article points out, decided to reinvent the wheel in his own name. He presented a paltry piece of legislation that solves no problem and creates no solution. More insulting yet, the legislation requests a miniscule $2.5 million for no real designated purpose. This is supposed to solve a problem that costs our nation over $700 billion each year? And if the absurdity and pure political opportunism of this legislation doesn't quite translate, look at it this way:

When the millionaires that owned the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club continuously failed to maintain the spillways around the South Fork Dam, Eventually, during a heavy rain storm, the dam failed.  They attempted to patch the dam with mud and rocks as it failed, but were ineffective.  Their chronic negligence caused the 1889 Johnstown Flood. Putting $2.5 million dollars toward a $700 billion dollar health problem that has been plagued by neglected spillways with decades of "repeal it, defund it and shut-it-down" politics, is like patching a breaking dam with a coffee cup of mud.

Once again, Mr. Rothfus has stepped into a serious and heartfelt issue with reckless abandon and shameless political opportunism.  If he really cared at all about addiction, he would realize that the Affordable Care Act prohibits payers from declaring addiction a pre-existing condition and ends lifetime limits that prevent addicts from readmitting to treatment after a failed attempt.  It also expands addiction coverage to many more Americans.  Therefore his decision to repeal the ACA over 60 times, was an attempt to take addiction coverage AWAY from millions of Americans and puts the burden of cost back on to the taxpayer.

If he really cared, he would start finding ways to invest in fixing this issue.  For every dollar we invest in prevention for children under 18, we save $28 in societal costs.  After the age of 18, every dollar we invest yields a savings of $7.  We need to stop the bleeding in this problem TODAY.  Addiction plagues our families, our communities, our schools, our veterans, our employers, our seniors, our healthcare system, our immigration issues and threatens our national security. 

But Mr. Rothfus won’t help with any of this.  He will talk about his “bill” which has no traction in the House, hold a few addiction panel discussions, put a 30 second ad on the air saying he cares and then forget it all happened after the election.  All the while, the policies he has supported will defund providers, provide less treatment and prevention, and continue to increase the level of addiction in our country.  And eventually, his vision of more addicts becoming home invaders will become a self-fulfilling prophecy that he can run on in his 2018 election.

Unless you are willing to help me stop him and change the course of this near epidemic problem.