If you or someone you know have experienced the effects of drug addiction, I am assuming that you have seen the television show Intervention. The popular show on A.&E. chronicles the attempts of family and friends to persuade a loved one with a substance abuse problem to enter treatment. Though they may be reluctant to go, it is for them a black and white personal decision. The question they are faced with is “Do I want to go?” not “Am I financially able to go?“. If the person agrees, it’s done and there are no further considerations. The person suffering is whisked away to a quality treatment center where they are able to receive the services they require. Unfortunately, for the large majority of Americans without access to large amounts of disposable income or Hollywood connections this road to rehabilitation is in stark contrast to reality. For them it means mortgages, loans, credit card debt, reliance on family and friends, or seeking the assistance of an inferior, government funded treatment center. In light of the fact that there are over 30,000,000 addicts and alcoholics in America, why do many find it so difficult to obtain competent treatment? The fact is that rehabilitation is an extremely expensive proposition. The care required costs tens of thousands of dollars, which is far from feasible for the average American. The cost of addiction to the American taxpayer is estimated at over $400 BILLION annually. This translates to over $1312.00 in taxes per citizen to provide State and Federal law enforcement, government funded rehabilitation, incarceration and oversight of drug offenders, and social services to the addicts and their families. This occurs while drug arrests have risen exponentially and addiction rates have plateued at between 9% and 10%. A clue to this static addiction rate might be that while State and Federal government has provided an astounding 76% of the funds spent to treat addicts/ alcoholics only 1 in 5 were serviced at a specialty treatment center. Additionally Government funded treatment centers fall within a narrow band of the available treatment options that do not take into account the individual needs of those seeking rehabilitation. It seems that the American taxpayer has been charged with funding vague, beurocratic solutions to problems that are unique to the individual addicts/alcoholics involved. If a Governmental campaign of this magnitude has yielded no tangible results, clearly another angle of attack required.
The American Medical Association as well as the American Psychiatric Association has classified alcoholism and drug addiction as treatable diseases, so where do the insurance companies stand? Apparently a comfortable distance from the people suffering as the overwhelming majority of those who failed to receive treatment did so due to either a lack of heath insurance coverage or due to a lack of insurance coverage that provided for treatment. In fact only 25%of addicts and 42% of alcoholics were aided by private insurance despite the well-established characterization of the condition. With the costs associated with treatment being what they are it is necessary for these companies to provide coverage that gives access to treatment options that are tailored the needs of the individual.
As insurance companies are disinclined to provide the services required by those insured or enroll past substance abusers, the situation seems pretty bleak to the majority of those attempting to get help. While there is no overnight solution, there are a few things that can be done to nudge the industry and society in general in a more rational direction. The most pressing issue is the encouragement of congress to mandate that private insurers cover the detoxification and treatment of those with policies struggling with addiction. This is being hotly debated in Congress as the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. This bill seeks to ensure that the insurance companies behave responsibly in seeing that the insured are provided access to the treatment that they pay for and deserve. You can obtain information about what you can do to help pass this legislation at www.nmha.org or at www.wellstone.org . Congress is extremely close to passing the bill and it is vital that you act as soon as possible as their August recess is approaching and they will likely adjourn in September.
An optimistic outcome of the passing of this legislation is that it might prompt the insurance industry to launch long-term studies into treatment options alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. While for the past 73 years it has been the backbone of mainstream recovery there has not been a single study that has proven it more effective than no treatment at all. This is not to say that it doesn’t work for anyone, but there are a sizable percentage of patients who find its theory of powerlessness incompatible with their view of addiction. Most people are often unaware that other options exist. There are a variety of centers that approach the problem of addiction with practical, down-to-earth solutions and it would be to the mutual benefit to the insurance companies and the substance abusers to investigate these alternative avenues.
For many coping with addiction the issue isn’t inadequate coverage, it’s a complete lack of it. With the cost of substance abuse treatment rivaling that of treating cancer this is a seemingly impossible obstacle to overcome. The solution to this seems to be the adoption by Congress of Universal Coverage. In this system currently being debated in the presidential campaign every American would have access to affordable health insurance. This would broaden the base of those paying into the insurance system drastically lowering the rates, which have risen close to 5 times the rate of wages over the last decade. The result is that affordable insurance is no longer the privilege of those working for large corporations and the government. The State of Massachusetts has already done exactly that. Every citizen of that state is covered and pays on a sliding scale in accordance with their wages. This shows that it can and does work. Again, the only way to see programs such as this enacted nationally is to get involved. The only thing standing between you and coverage for you and your family is apathy so call your congressmen, speak with your friends, and judge the candidates on their commitment to your future.
While few will be able to reasonably expect that a television show will swoop in and save the day, we can hope for a sort of intervention. This will be the collective intervention of those who recognize and act on the deeply flawed nature of insurance payments for the treatment of addiction. We ask the insurance companies to INSURE so that hopefully, soon, the choice to get treatment will be as simple as deciding to go.