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Monday, May 7, 2012

Massachusetts’s Experience Suggests Coverage Alone Is Insufficient To Increase Addiction Disorders Treatment

The Affordable Care Act is aimed at extending health insurance to more than thirty million Americans, including many with untreated substance use disorders. Will those who need addiction treatment receive it once they have insurance?

To answer that question, we examined the experience of Massachusetts, which implemented its own universal insurance law in 2007. As did the Affordable Care Act, the Massachusetts reform incorporated substance abuse services into the essential benefits to be provided all residents. Prior to the law’s enactment, the state estimated that a half-million residents needed substance abuse treatment.

Our mixed-methods exploratory study thus asked whether expanded coverage in Massachusetts led to increased addiction treatment, as indicated by admissions, services, or revenues.

In fact, we observed relatively stable use of treatment services two years before and two years after the state enacted its universal health care law. Among other factors, our study noted that the percentage of uninsured patients with substance abuse issues remains relatively high—and that when patients did become insured, requirements for copayments on their care deterred treatment.

Our analysis suggests that expanded coverage alone is insufficient to increase treatment use. Changes in eligibility, services, financing, system design, and policy may also be required.

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