Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Increasing Coverage For Drug Treatment

By Shawn Dwyer 05/14/14

State lawmakers have answered the call to do something about the state's heroin epidemic by opening access to treatment for addicts.

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Massachusetts State House. Shutterstock

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill that would require insurance companies to cover drug and alcohol treatment with no prior authorization. The legislation would require commercial insurance companies to cover 21 days of clinical detox care and MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, to cover 15 days.

"What it comes down to is that we want people to be able to access treatment," said state Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan (D-Leominster) prior to the bill’s passage. Flanagan chaired the special committee that conducted eight hearings over the course of the last year that addressed the state’s lack of access to treatment.

"There was a common theme [at the hearings] that people are being denied access to treatment for a variety of reasons,” she said.  

The bill also sets up a system where qualified professionals would be reimbursed for drug treatment services. While no estimates have been made as to what the costs would be to insurance companies, state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer argued during debate that the cost of doing nothing would be far greater.

"What is the cost to our society of 135 babies being born in March that are addicted to drugs? What does it cost to our trial court system, our DYS system, our mental health system, our society and our education? I would submit it is clearly in the billions of dollars," Brewer said.

Massachusetts has been on the front lines of the nation’s growing heroin epidemic. Earlier in the year, Massachusetts State Police reported that 185 people died from heroin overdoses in the state over the course of a four-month period.

"We firmly believe that it is a problem that cannot be solved solely by arrests, although street enforcement is vital. Treatment and public education components are equally essential,” said state police spokesman David Procopio at the time.

The Senate bill has been sent to the House for passage.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.