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Portman talks health care with Ohio Farm Bureau

BREAKFAST DISCUSSION — Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, delivered an update on goings-on in the Senate to the 73 Ohio Farm Bureau presidents and vice presidents who made the 71st annual Ohio Farm Bureau trip to Washington to lobby for agricultural issues. Portman met with the group in the Capitol Hill Club Wednesday. - Paul Giannamore

WASHINGTON, D.C. — About half the hands in the room went up when Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, asked the Ohio Farm Bureau delegation of roughly 100 people if they or someone they know was impacted by the opioid epidemic.

Portman discussed the issue during a breakfast meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday morning.

Portman said the Affordable Care Act didn’t live up to any of its promises, that thousands of Ohioans have seen their plans increase in cost or lost their health insurance or lost access to their preferred physicians. Small businesses in Ohio have seen their premiums rise by 82 percent since the ACA became law, and a third of the counties in Ohio have only one option for health insurers, meaning costs have risen for those using the health exchanges.

“Remember that when we talk about health care, the status quo is unacceptable,” Portman said. “By the way, even before the Affordable Care Act, in my view, it was unacceptable, because we still had increases that were above inflation and not sustainable over time.”

Portman said he remains concerned about the impact of any changes in Medicaid on those receiving or seeking opioid addiction treatment.

He noted the Ohio Farm Bureau has taken a lead on the issue of opioid addiction education.

He said rural health care clinic operators have told him that for many, without Medicaid, there would be no treatment option.

“I am concerned about that,” Portman said. “The last thing we want is to have less treatment available in Ohio.”

He said law enforcement believes the top cause of theft, fraud, shoplifting and some robberies in Ohio is the opioid epidemic, with addicts seeking to pay for their habit.

“We’ve got to get our young people in a whole different frame of mind on this, to know that this is going to ruin their hopes and their lives and their dreams,” he said. Portman praised the work of the Farm Bureau on prevention education with young people.

“You are saving lives by doing that,” he said.

He said the expansion of synthetic heroin, Fentanyl, “is playing Russian roulette with your life. They even sprinkle it on marijuana now.”

“It’s an issue that goes on in every ZIP code and every age group.”

Portman said 30 percent of the people in expanded Medicaid have mental health or drug issues in Ohio and they account for 50 percent of the cost of treatment.

He said while prevention and education are the best method for ending the epidemic, the issue of treatment of hundreds of thousands of Ohioans remains.

“Let’s be sure that as we’re reforming health care, we insure those people that are getting coverage do not lose that coverage for treatment for drug addiction,” he said.

On agriculture issues, Portman told reporters the top priority is regulations.

He said there has been progress getting rid of many regulations imposed during the past year by using a review process that doesn’t trigger the need to get 60 senators to vote for repeals.

“In the meantime, we are dealing with new legislation to deal with regulations going forward, to make sure we don’t get back into the situation where we are having the executive branch putting out over-regulations. It’s called the Regulatory Accountability Act. I am the author of that in the Senate and we’ve got Farm Bureau support for it,” he said.

He has worked on the legislation for five years and had bipartisan support in years past, but none has come forward this year. He said the legislation has passed the House six times in five years, including one time two years ago when 19 Democrats supported it.

As for trade issues, he said the Trump administration is sending mixed messages. Portman, whose past service included a stint as U.S. Trade Representative, said the issue remains keeping a level playing field for American business. He said the North American Free Trade Agreement needs to be updated, having been written 26 years ago, before e-commerce and environmental labor regulations.

Portman said the U.S. has a trade surplus with the 10 percent of the world with which it has trade agreements and trade deficits with the rest.

“We have an opportunity to expand trade with good agreements,” he said, emphasizing a need for caution in dealing with trade pacts.

Portman said he is concerned with policies that are leading Ohio farmland to be taken over by suburban expansion. He said there are 75,000 farms in Ohio and it’s some of the best agricultural land in the world. He said he supports efforts to make laws and regulations that make it possible for farmers to pass their land on to the next generation as productive farmland.

(Giannamore can be reached by e-mail at pgiannamore@heraldstaronline.com.)

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