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ACA will help those with substance use disorders
ACA will help those with substance use disorders
Posted by Anna Strong on November 22nd 2013

Treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) is a little-discussed benefit that's part of all new plans in Arkansas's health insurance Marketplace and Private Option plans.  We've been working for most of 2013 with Community Catalyst to ensure that those who need treatment for addiction are considered in policy decisions under the Affordable Care Act.  We wanted to share some of the ways that we have helped - and can continue to help - the many Arkansas families affected by SUDs through this project. 

In Arkansas, addiction affects many of us. Substance use disorders are a contributor to the high poverty rate in the state, and the long-term consequences of addiction add up in total costs to the state - $888 million in 2005.[i]  In fact, the final report from Arkansas's 2010 Legislative Task Force on Reducing Poverty and Promoting Economic Opportunity identified increased access to treatment for SUDs as one of its top six health-related poverty reduction strategies. 

According to a national study, Arkansans show a demonstrated need for increased access to treatment for SUDs - only about six percent of those who need treatment actually receive it.[ii],[iii] In fact, the takeaway from the table below is that the vast majority of Arkansans who need treatment for substance use disorders are not receiving it. Treatment can be expensive, needed services may not be offered, and there may be rural disparities in access to care. 

Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act helps improve access to these needed addiction treatments.  The 500,000 Arkansans who are uninsured today will be able to choose from a variety of plans in Arkansas's health insurance Marketplace.  Every plan in the Marketplace will cover mental health and substance use disorders in parity with physical health benefits, and no one can be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. The plans will be offered on a sliding scale, with about half of uninsured Arkansans owing no monthly premium at all. 

Our challenge comes in enrolling those with SUDs. We know from Massachusetts that even when universal health coverage is available, those with SUDs remain uninsured at a much higher rate (25 percent) than the general population (three percent).[iv] AACF has been at the table and have made an effort to ensure that the SUD community is represented when policy decisions have been made. For example:

  • We helped recruit 4 SUD providers to be in-person assister organizations so those with SUDs can enroll where they seek treatment. Quapaw House, Harbor House, Southeast Behavioral Healthcare Systems, and the Mental Health Council of Arkansas are all ready to enroll the uninsured.
  • We made sure in-person assisters and other enrollment workers learned about working with those with SUDs in their certification by adding that topic to the training guide.
  • We are about to launch a series of radio ads targeted to those who need addiction treatment to let them know that new coverage is available to help them work toward recovery.

Keep your eyes out for future blog posts on SUDs in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, let us know if you have thoughts to share on our work in this area! As always, you can reach us at connect@aradvocates.org or 501-372-9678.


[i] Arkansas Legislative Task force on Substance Abuse Treatment Services: Final Report and Recommendations.  December 2012.

[ii] SAMHSA, 2009-2010 NSDUH State Estimates of Substance Use and Mental Disorders. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10State/NSDUHsae2010/NSDUHsaeStateTabs2010.htm#Tab17.

[iii] Arkansas Legislative Task force on Substance Abuse Treatment Services: Final Report and Recommendations.  December 2012.  

[iv]  Presentation by Tom Emswiler, Community Catalyst.  References "Health Affairs paper by Victor Capoccia et al. 2012."

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Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families
Union Station - 1400 West Markham Suite 306 - Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (501) 371-9678 - Fax: (501) 371-9681 - Email: info@aradvocates.org