06 Jan Massachusetts State Bill Stirs Opioid Addiction Treatment Debate
All across the U.S., communities are facing an epidemic of opioid addiction and all the negative consequences associated with it. What began with prescription painkillers has morphed into a heroin epidemic. The need for treatment to help the thousands of addicts is great, but experts still debate the best way in which to reach and care for everyone. A bill in the Massachusetts Legislature is stirring that debate, specifically over the effectiveness of inpatient treatment and who should pay for it.
Opioid Abuse in Massachusetts
The growth of addiction to opioid drugs like narcotic painkillers and heroin is a problem that most states and communities are facing. In Massachusetts, the situation prompted the governor, Deval Patrick, to declare a public health emergency last spring. At the time of the announcement, nearly 150 people had died from opioid overdoses in just a few months and the state had seen a 90 percent increase in overdoses over a decade.
Along with the declaration, Governor Patrick outlined a plan to turn things around in the state. This included giving first responders naloxone, the overdose antidote, restricting prescriptions of certain painkillers and instituting prescription monitoring.
Bill to Improve Access to Treatment
The state legislators in Massachusetts are getting in on the action as well and introducing bills to help curb opioid addiction. One such bill has started an intense debate among lawmakers, experts, insurers and advocates. Advocates for better coverage for inpatient addiction treatment are pushing the bill. If voted into law, the Senate version would require that health insurers cover a minimum of 21 days of inpatient addiction treatment. The three weeks would include detoxification, medical care for withdrawal symptoms and rehab through the end of the 21 days. A House version of the same bill would only require coverage for 10 days of inpatient care.
The difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill is symbolic of the debate surrounding the issue. Those who oppose the bill, or at least the 21-day version in the senate, believe that it promotes an outdated and ineffective style of treatment for addiction. They believe that it means forcing insurance companies to pay for an expensive treatment that may not even work. Critics also believe that the requirements would ultimately drive up the overall cost of health care for everyone.
The bill has been driven by advocates with personal stories of addiction and struggles to get treatment. Those pushing for the bill have spent countless hours trying to get insurance coverage for treatment of loved ones. They have faced growing piles of bills for the care that their children or other family members desperately needed. Much of that care has been inpatient treatment. These advocates for addicts believe that the best way to help patients is to get coverage to everyone who needs it and to get insurers out of the equation when decisions are being made about care. They want doctors and patients to make choices about treatment, not insurance companies.
What will happen to the bills as they currently stand is unknown. If the House and Senate can come together and find a compromise on the issue of insurance coverage, the outcome should be to the benefit of the thousands of state residents struggling with opioid addiction. Regardless of the debate over particulars, expanded access is always positive and will help save lives.
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