Context: In contrast to the Affordable Care Act, some have suggested the opioid epidemic represents an area of bipartisanship. This raises an important question: to what extent are Democrat-led and Republican-led states different or similar in their policy responses to the opioid epidemic?
Methods: Three main methodological approaches were used to assess state-level policy responses to the opioid epidemic: a legislative analysis across all 50 states, an online survey of 50 state Medicaid agencies, and in-depth case studies with policy stakeholders in five states.
Findings: Conservative states pursue hidden and targeted Medicaid expansions, and a number of legislative initiatives, to address the opioid crisis. However, the total fiscal commitment among these Republican-led states pales in comparison to states that adopt the ACA Medicaid expansion. Because the state legislative initiatives do not provide treatment, these states spend substantially less than states with Democratic control.
Conclusions: Rather than persistently working to retrench all programs, conservatives have relied on policy designs that emphasize devolution, fragmentation, and inequality to both expand and retrench benefits. This strategy, which allocates benefits differentially to different social groups and obfuscates responsibility, allows conservatives to avoid political blame typically associated with retrenchment.