For people suffering with drug or alcohol addiction, Obamacare was a new day.
Mental health and substance use disorder treatment became “essential services” that health insurance plans had to cover, a rule that ushered in the greatest expansion of such services in a generation, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
That new day soon might be over. The Senate Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act, released Thursday, would “sunset” Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirements on Dec. 31, 2019.
“The proposed changes will result in many more lives lost to addiction and related mental health problems – and the impact will be greatest among the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Martin Y. Iguchi, a senior behavioral scientist and professor at the RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica.
“At a time when opiate overdoses exceed even traffic accidents as the number one cause of injury death in the nation, these changes make no sense in public health terms – and will place many more Americans at risk of death.”
The bill would provide $2 billion in grants for states to pay for opioid treatment, but in a recovery industry expected to hit $42 billion in 2020, that’s not expected to go very far.
It “doesn’t come close to meeting the real—and growing—need for care,” said a statement by the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Grants are not a substitute for health coverage. We don’t rely on grants for the treatment of heart disease or cancer, and addiction and mental health should be no different.”
Costs will shift to the states, Iguchi said, which would likely disrupt the development of innovative care models that emerged with the Medicaid expansion, and erode program availability as funding begins to drop.
The bill also does not require or protect parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment, which would result in a dearth of funds to pay for treatment even among those who choose to…