Number of People Seeking Addiction Treatment Could Double Under New Health Law

The number of people seeking addiction treatment could double under the Affordable Care Act, the Associated Press reports. Under the new law, four million people with drug and alcohol problems will become eligible for insurance coverage. The surge of new patients is likely to strain the substance abuse treatment system, the AP notes.

How many new patients will seek addiction treatment will depend in part on how many states decide to expand their Medicaid programs.

“There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction,” Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute, told the AP. “That’s because we have a system of treatment that was built for a time when they didn’t understand that addiction was an illness.”

The new law designates addiction treatment as an “essential health benefit” for most commercial insurance plans, meaning the plans must cover it.

Substance abuse treatment is to a large extent publicly funded, and run by counselors who have limited medical training, according to the article. Programs are already running over capacity in many places, and have been hit by government budget cuts. The increase in patients could result in long waiting lists, treatment agencies warn.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.1 million people ages 12 and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem last year, but only 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility. About one-quarter of those who need treatment but do not receive it lack insurance, according to the article.

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    Dawn Garrett

    October 18, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    Drug addiction is such a slippery animal that our current system has low success rate. (I sponsor a huge number of graduates and the treatment only sticks on a small percentage.) What seems to be the part not addressed is coping skills and depression. I know that our local treatment center which is state funded loads them up with carbs, has no exercise facility and expects them to not be depressed. When faced with losing something that makes you temporarily happy, or at least not sad, one would thing the program would attempt to address this huge issue. Seems like one must really need relief to trade these brief respites for the horrific destruction.

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    dean hale

    September 24, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Expanding criteria is a good start.

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    Andy Lujan

    September 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    Insurance companies have not yet realized the cost savings in covering and utilizing sober living homes in conjuction with outpatient substance abuse treatment not only as a positive cost saving effective alternative to costly impatient treatment. We have successfully assisted thousands of afflicted substance abusing individuals arrest their addictions and positively drastically improved living skills and have recovered. The criminal drug courts statistics show that this model works and saves millions of dollars and lives every year.

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    September 17, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    Yes, that is something a topic to debate. Still, there is an uncertainty on whether a patient really in need would receive the treatment or not. Expanding eligibility criteria is not enough in this regard.

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    Rob Fleming

    September 12, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    The critical word here is “eligible”. They won’t strain the system if they don’t seek treatment and they won’t seek treatment without an effective “no wrong door” policy and social marketing comparable to that for breast cancer or HIV/AIDS. I exchanged emails this morning with a reasonably-intelligent, politically-connected activist who still buys into “they have to want it” and “they have to hit bottom”. So much for decades of work on intervention.

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