WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Millions of uninsured Americans with drug and alcohol addictions will become eligible for insurance when the federal health care overhaul goes into effect next year.
More than 2,000 D.C. residents, 100,000 Virginia residents and 41,000 Maryland residents are among them.
For the District, that would mean a 33 percent increase from the 6,000 residents who are currently getting treatment through their health insurance.
An Associated Press analysis of government data finds that about 9 percent of Virginians need treatment for substance abuse. Of those 559,000 people, only 65,000 are currently getting treatment.
Maryland currently has an estimated 423,000 people who need treatment for substance abuse, also about 9 percent of the population, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says. An estimated 58,000 of them are currently receiving treatment.
It has been six decades since doctors concluded that addiction was a disease that could be treated, but today the condition still dwells on the fringes of the medical community. Only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States goes toward addiction, and few alcoholics and drug addicts receive treatment. One huge barrier, according to many experts, has been a lack of health insurance.
Nationally, 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. The analysis compared federal data on the addiction rates in the 50 states, the capacity of treatment programs and the provisions of the new health law.
The surge in patients is expected to push a marginal part of the health care system out of church basements and into the mainstream of medical care.
Only about 10 percent of the 23 million Americans with alcohol or drug problems now receive treatment, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Shame and stigma are part of the reason but about a quarter of them don’t have insurance coverage. That compares with the overall uninsured rate of 16 percent.
Anywhere from 3 million to 5 million people with drug and alcohol problems nationwide will become eligible for insurance coverage under the federal health care reforms, according to the AP analysis. Yet treatment clinics already are at or approaching capacity in more than two-thirds of the states.
With money for treatment limited, slots in rehabilitation centers and hospitals are scarce. Insurance can mean the difference between getting a spot or waiting indefinitely for publicly subsidized help.
“This is going to make a world of difference,” said Marjorie Yates, associate director for Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia, an advocacy group with affiliates statewide and operates a recovery support center in Richmond using grant money. “Sure it will stress the system and the system’s going to need a lot more treatment centers … to me, that’s a very classy problem.”
For addicts with little-to-no income, Yates said treatment is “basically unavailable, and if it is available, the wait is so long that they can be dead by the time they get actual inpatient treatment.”
In extreme cases, some addicts that are trying to detox will sometimes illegally go to the emergency room and say they’re suicidal because that’s the only way they can get treated, Yates said.
“I’m looking forward to them just having their basic needs met and not having to go through all this drama,” she said.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s No. 2 official before becoming Maryland’s health secretary in 2011, agreed.
“Pressure on our substance abuse treatment system to serve more people is a problem I would like to have,” he said. “We want people to get substance abuse treatment. It allows them to gain independence and transform their lives, and it leads to less criminal behavior, more employment and better outcomes for individuals and their families.”
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