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Obamacare Will Provide Regular Citizens the Same Rehab Services Celebs Get

Glee lead actor Cory Monteith successfully completed rehab this week after admitting himself voluntarily in March for drug abuse, but addiction services will not just be easily accessible to wealthy celebrities soon. As AP's Carla K. Johnson reports, up to 5 million people will be eligible for addiction services in 2014 under provisions in Obamacare, allowing average people some of the same substance abuse assistance as our celebrities.

Monteith has been able to afford a month-long rehab stint, which can run anywhere from $1,400 for outpatient treatment to an absurd $30,000 for one month of high end residential drug treatment programs according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental-Health Services Administration. The lower cost $4,000 residential drug rehab programs are still a big financial burden for the average person, and Methadone addiction recovery costs an exorbitant $7,000.

Having access to health insurance has meant a world of a difference between getting assistance or an indefinitely painful wait for public aid. “We have a system of treatment that was built for a time when they didn’t understand that addiction was an illness,” summarized Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute and President Barack Obama’s former deputy drug czar.

Substance abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs costs $600 billion annually in crime, health care, and lost productivity according to data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Despite those alarming numbers, only one cent of every health care dollar in the United States is allocated to addiction treatments. Monteith is only one of the 23 million Americans with alcohol or drug problems, only 10% of which receive treatment.

Johnson reports that at least a quarter of that 23 million are ineligible for health insurance coverage, but thanks to health care law changes being implemented next year, any where from 3 million to 5 million people will be eligible for Medicaid sponsored programs.

McLellan describes the expansive impact of these policy changes emphatically: “There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction.” 

Previously ineligible candidates like the homeless, or individuals whose income levels were above eligibility but not remotely close to paying for addiction services, will now be able to receive access to publicly funded addiction programs, and not ones run by churches and community centers.

The number of people eligible could vary depending on how many states will adopt the Medicaid programs, which could influence the quality of care available from state-to-state. To offset that potential imbalance, addiction treatment has been mandated as an "essential health benefit" requiring most commercial plans to offer coverage.

The new laws also subsidize individuals buying private coverage, so families in states like Minnesota which has the highest substance abuse rates would not be only dependent on government sponsored health programs that are already over saturated.

Hospitals, rehab centers, and even medical schools will be grappling with the sudden inclusion of 5 million people to an already overloaded system seeking drug abuse assistance. Johnson calculates that the number of addiction specialists would need to double to 3,000 nationwide to accommodate the demand that will become impossible to manage in places like Illinois that will have 235,000 addicts added to the 92,000 currently receiving treatment.

Nonetheless, these challenges will spur on a revolution in addiction services throughout the country and make our system robust in caring for short term addicts like Monteith or long-term sufferers who need extended care to help them re-assimilate into society.

As the law gets implemented, we can hope that we no longer have stories like those by Dan Lustig, vice president of Haymarket Center in Chicago, which has the highest concentration of heroin addicts in the nation: 

"We had clients literally pleading for services. Some were sleeping on our front steps.”

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