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Addiction field advocates urge professionals to engage in health reform debate

August 19, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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NAADAC, Legal Action Center are among the groups highlighting provisions relevant to the field

The present congressional recess is no time to tune out the loud debate that has erupted over the Obama administration’s attempt to reform healthcare, suggests several leading organizations representing addiction professionals. NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals and the Legal Action Center are among the groups strongly urging members of the treatment and recovery communities to become more vocal as reform bills head toward crucial votes in Congress this fall.

“So far, all of the healthcare bills or proposals include provisions for addiction and mental health services and providers. However, Congress needs to hear from you that you want them to enact healthcare reform and that the final legislation must include coverage for addiction and mental health treatment benefits at parity with other health conditions, and must provide funding for addiction and mental health prevention, screening, and workforce development,” states an action alert this month from the Legal Action Center.

Groups such as NAADAC are urging field professionals to leverage the gains they made last year during the successful adoption of federal insurance parity legislation. They suggest that the parity outcome has helped generate a better reception for behavioral health issues in the larger health reform discussions.

“Firstly, it provided a chance to educate Congress about the importance of addiction and mental health services in the context of the health care system,” states a NAADAC update on health reform legislation. “Secondly, it helped addiction and mental health advocates coordinate their efforts.”

Spearheaded by government relations director Daniel Guarnera, NAADAC is spending a great deal of time educating member professionals about what is currently included in and absent from the reform packages being debated on Capitol Hill. It is doing this while reminding members that the legislation remains a moving target and that a much different package—or none at all—might eventually emerge.

For example, the NAADAC summary of activity to date states that while the present vision of reform is expected to allow many uninsured individuals with substance use problems to receive coverage, legislation at this point would not alter the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion that blocks Medicaid funding of most residential treatment services for addictions.

NAADAC also is calling attention to current provisions that could be of significant benefit but may remain largely unknown to many in the community. These include a House amendment to create a $60 million grant program for interdisciplinary workforce training initiatives, as well as a separate amendment that would require health plans to include substance abuse screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment among core preventive services.