The closer the nation gets to the full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the bigger the numbers being tossed around become.
The other day it was 37 million — the number of people a Stanford Medical School study suggested might bolt their employer health plan for exchange coverage. Now, we hearing that 40 million folks may enter drug and/or alcohol rehab programs once the act takes effect.
Understandably, this could lead to a huge demand for new treatment services that are aligned with the guidelines and goals of the act.
The 40-million figure comes from the California Health Report, in an article which discusses how drug and alcohol treatment programs will be viewed differently under the act. (The California Health Report is a nonprofit civic journalism project.)
“I don’t think there’s another illness that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Thomas McLellan, former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told California Health.
Drug and alcohol programs were previously considered health plan options, or even part of a standalone wellness or employee assistance plan. Now D&A treatment — or mistreatment, as it’s being referred to – has to be part of the standard coverage plan.
“The Affordable Care Act recognizes drug addiction and alcoholism as chronic diseases that must be covered by health insurance plans, and in so doing marks a major transformation of addiction care,” the Health Report says. “The biggest change is that 40 million people could enter substance abuse treatment, opening a huge market for addiction care.”
The article says the designers of the act wanted to bring D&A programs into the insurance fold because of the enormous cost of addiction — about $120 billion a year in health care expenses.
Now, with D&A treatment as part of a basic health coverage plan, experts in the field expect millions of people to enroll, either voluntarily or with a little nudging from their physicians or employers.
Part of what will drive people to seek help will be a questionnaire, approved by the act, known as the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment survey that is designed to flag addicts or those who may become addicts.
“Health care and drug treatment are coming together,” the Health Report reports. “The ACA calls for coordinated care in which physical, mental health and substance use professionals work as a team. Drug programs — many of which are small cash-strapped operations — will have to use electronic medical records and meet tougher Medicaid and private insurance standards.”
Albert Senella, director of the addiction treatment program at Tarzana Treatment Center in Southern California and president of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, said the drug treatment industry already is changing in preparation for the ACA.
“There have been a number of mergers already because of the recognition that (treatment programs are) not large enough to get these things done,” Senella said.