Addiction Programs Need Help Fulfilling ACA’s Promise of High-Quality Treatment

By Brent McCluskey 05/14/15

Most treatment programs are too understaffed and lack the necessary technology to implement the ACA's changes.

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With the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) came a promise to provide easily accessible, high-quality addiction treatment, but treatment centers need help implementing the new changes.

While technically the ACA provides the opportunity for new addiction treatment opportunities, most treatment programs are too understaffed and lack the necessary technology to actually put them into play.

“[M]ost addiction treatment programs lack the staffing and technological capabilities to respond successfully to ACA-driven system change,” said Christina Andrews, PhD, MSW, who led an investigation into the new needs created by ACA. “Coverage doesn’t equal access. We have about 30 million people that have new access to insurance coverage for addiction treatment, but we have a lot of addiction treatment programs that don’t have the capability to serve those clients.”

The investigation examined how single state agencies from 49 states and the District of Columbia were aiding addiction centers as they struggled to adapt to the new forms of treatment brought about by the ACA. They found that in most instances the state agencies were “falling short.”

“Despite the resources that have come from the federal level to support states in implementing the ACA, this study really demonstrates that those funds haven’t really made their way into the addiction treatment system,” said Andrews.

“More resources are needed around information and electronic health records that are really key,” Andrews continued. “Medicaid is poised to become the dominant funder of addiction treatment as a result of the ACA, and Medicaid agencies need to play a bigger role in supporting these organizations to make these changes.”

But Petros Levounis, MD, vice chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry, said additional funding isn’t enough, adding that addiction treatment centers need properly trained staff, and a lot of them.

“[W]e need to do our job from the ground up in terms of creating a culture where addiction treatment is considered to be as important and as deserving of professionally trained staff as any other part of medicine,” said Levounis. “We would not conceive having non-certified staff treat schizophrenia or depression, yet we find it perfectly acceptable to have non-trained staff treat alcoholism or drug abuse.”

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.