05 Oct New Massachusetts Substance Abuse Law Emphasizes Treatment
A new bill signed into state law by Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has garnered national attention. The bill is designed to fight substance abuse in the state, and it places a significant emphasis on treatment for people living with substance use disorders.
The legislation requires insurance companies to cover a number of services that have not been universally available, including up to 14 days of inpatient treatment for those with substance use disorders. The bill received bipartisan support in the Massachusetts legislature.
Nationwide, drug overdose deaths rose from 5,000 in the year 2000 to 17,000 in 2013, according to Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. As a result of this trend, as well as a rash of overdose deaths in the state, Gov. Patrick declared a public health emergency early this year.
Similar Bill May Be Introduced to U.S. Congress
The Massachusetts bill has garnered attention partly because it is expected to be a model for national legislation. Sen. Markey may introduce legislation of similar outline to the U.S. Senate, and Congress will be looking to Massachusetts to see whether its approach succeeds in reducing substance abuse.
Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, were both present for the signing of the new bill, demonstrating their approval of Massachusetts’ new approach to substance abuse.
Insurance Groups Oppose Bill
As the new bill was being considered in the state legislature, most of the opposition came from health insurance companies. They believe the bill places too many restrictions on the industry and that it could result in significant unnecessary expenditures.
The insurance companies are concerned that requiring insurers to pay for 14 days of inpatient treatment will result in many patients demanding 14 days, even when it is not the best course of treatment for them. Dr. Stuart Gitlow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote a letter stating concerns that the new law amounts to a state endorsement of inpatient care, when outpatient approaches are more effective for many patients, he said.
The bill also prevents insurance companies from requiring prior authorization before treatment begins, which has added to worries that many patients will be seeking unnecessarily expensive programs.
The new bill will also increase access to Suboxone and other replacement drugs that help people kick the opioid habit. This component has also received criticism from people who believe that replacement drugs simply transfer addiction without truly helping people recover from the illness.
Proponents Say Measure Will Remove Barriers to Treatment
In addition to Botticelli and Dr. Volkow, the new bill also received support from the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Pamela Hyde, as well as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Cheryl Bartlett.
Proponents of the measure believe it will help remove some of the barriers that keep people struggling with addiction from seeking treatment. They say the bill ensures more covered options for substance use and addiction treatment, and believe that it will help people with substance use disorders get help without having to wait through a complicated authorization process.
The bill permits a review of treatment after seven days, which the authors hope will allow for adjustments in care without delaying entrance into treatment in the first place.
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