NC to face big jump in demand for addiction care

  • Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 11:12 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — Drug and alcoholism addiction specialists are bracing for a coming change in the federal health care overhaul law that will mean a big increase in insurers paying for treatment.

New figures from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show the demand for treatment services will outstrip the available supply, at least in the short term.

About 77,000 people in North Carolina are now receiving substance abuse treatment. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act soon taking effect would make nearly 100,000 addicts newly eligible for insurance next year.

The coming rush of addicts with insurance coverage isn’t yet broadly known by the state’s addiction treatment professionals, said Kenny House, the clinical director of Coastal Horizons Center, a nonprofit provider of substance abuse and other services in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.

“It’s certainly being talked about at statewide meetings,” said House, who is also a board member of the group Addiction Professionals of North Carolina. “I think people are talking about it, which means they understand the insured population is going to have access in less restrictive ways.”

It has been six decades since the medical community concluded that addiction was a disease that could be treated, but only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States goes toward addiction. Few alcoholics and drug addicts receive treatment, with lack of health insurance for the disorder one of the chief barriers. So the system for treating substance abuse is small and thinly staffed and already full to overflowing in many places.

For example, there are about 2,500 beds at addiction treatment facilities across North Carolina, the federal substance abuse services administration says, and they are more than 90 percent full.

If North Carolina expanded access to Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor and disabled, more than 193,000 addicts would be newly eligible for covered treatment to get clean, the federal agency estimates. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly have decided against Medicaid expansion that would be fully covered by federal funds for at least three years.

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