Editorial: Addiction overhaul
As a recent AP story pointed out, it has been some 60 years since doctors began to admit that addiction was a disease that could be treated, rather than a moral failing.
But despite that conclusion, the condition still dwells on the fringes of the medical community, with only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States going toward chemical addiction treatment.
As a result, relatively few alcoholics and drug addicts receive treatment.
But one huge barrier to treatment, a lack of health insurance, will begin to crumble in less than a year when 3 million to 5 million people with drug and alcohol problems will suddenly become eligible for insurance coverage under the new health care overhaul.
That means the number of people seeking treatment could double over current levels, depending on how many states decide to expand their Medicaid programs and how many addicts choose to take advantage of the new opportunity.
That surge in patients is expected to push addiction treatment system out of church basements and into the mainstream of medical care.
According to that story, the prospect of more paying patients has already prompted private equity firms to increase their investments in addiction treatment companies and families fighting the affliction are beginning to consider a new avenue for help.
“There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction,” said Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute and President Barack Obama’s former deputy drug czar.
“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.”
But those eager for a new chance at sobriety may be surprised by the reality behind the promise. The system for treating substance abuse — now largely publicly funded and run by counselors with limited medical training — is small and already full to overflowing in many places. In more than two-thirds of the states, treatment clinics are already at or approaching 100 percent capacity.
The new demand could swamp the system before even half of the newly insured show up at the door, causing waiting lists of months or longer, treatment agencies say. In recent years, many rehab centers have been shrinking rather than growing because of government budget cuts for patients who receive public support.
Nonetheless, despite the problems, we all should be excited that at last, the health care system will be forced to deal in a forthright fashion with one of society’s biggest problems.
It’s long overdue.