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Health Care and Addiction Treatment

Health care and addiction treatment are very closely linked in the United States, but resistance still exists from those who feel that addiction treatment isn’t the concern of most insurers or the public health system – despite recent legislation mandating treatment options for most carriers. Additionally, Americans are grossly underinsured to the point that even if more insurers were to offer addiction treatment benefits, too many of those who would use these benefits would be unable to obtain them due to a lack of specific coverage. This is an especially distressing concern considering that substance abuse, addiction and alcoholism are probably the most significant public health threats in this country today.

Addiction Treatment Reduces Expenses Across The Board

The disconnection between public health care and addiction is an unusual one considering the potential benefits the health care system would realize if more addicts were treated. According to Open Society Foundations, “Studies show that addiction treatment significantly reduces emergency room, inpatient and total health care costs. While the overall cost savings have not been documented, there are clear signs of the potential for savings:

  • Total medical costs were reduced 26 percent among one group of patients that received addiction treatment.
  • A group of at-risk alcohol users who received brief counseling recorded 20 percent fewer emergency department visits and 37 percent fewer days of hospitalization.” (1) This and other data demonstrate that the fewer addicts that are treated, the higher the cost to our already over-strained health care system.

Part of the problem is that many Americans are completely uninsured and therefore insurance providers cannot really be to blame. Kaiser Health News reported that “According to the Census report, 253.6 million people had health insurance in 2009 – down from 255.1 million the previous year. Meanwhile, the percentage of people without health insurance increased to 16.7 percent . . .” (2) This is just one example of the desperate need for a health care system overhaul in the United States.

Until recently, even Americans that had insurance had no specific benefit to cover the costs of treatment for addiction or alcoholism. But under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, insurers in most states are now required to make these benefits available to their clients. Therefore, those in need of help and considering a residential inpatient treatment program or outpatient treatment center, which can cost thousands of dollars, can now get that treatment without added financial burden. This new legislation came about after years of avoidance of the issue on the part of employers and insurers who seek to minimize risks at all costs. Moyers on Addiction, a PBS online publication stated that:

Do I Have The Right Health Care Coverage For Addiction Treatment?

“Many insurers have been reluctant to provide the same coverage for treatment of substance abuse dependence as they do for other diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, because of fear of costs and ambivalence about the efficacy of treatment. Employers — who pay the premium for health benefits — also worry that providing such relief would be too costly.” (3)

However, the reality is that we as a country can’t afford NOT to invest in the connection between addiction treatment and public health care. There is more to be done And with addiction and alcoholism costing thousands of lives and tearing at the very familial fabric of our communities, this should be a pressing concern.

Thankfully, help is available even for those who cannot afford it or do not have insurance. To find out how you can get help right now.

 Health Care and Addiction Treatment Hotline 1-800-706-9190

(1) Open Society Foundations Unforseen Benefits: Addiction Treatment Reduces Health Care Costs 7/2009
http://www.soros.org/initiatives/treatmentgap/articles_publications/publications/paper1_20090714
Accessed 07/20/2011

(2) Kaiser Health News Census Bureau: Recession Fuels Record Number of Uninsured Americans 09/17/2010
http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/daily-reports/2010/september/16/uninsured-census-statistics.aspx
Accessed 07/20/2011

(3) Thirteen.ORG Legislating Insurance Parity for Addiction Treatment PBS Online
http://www.thirteen.org/closetohome/policy/html/insurance.html
Accessed 07/20/2011

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