ACA Expected to Help Those With Substance Use Disorders

Many individuals with limited incomes who are struggling with substance use disorders will become eligible for coverage and treatment next year under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, new research led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

Insurance coverage for this population, which is estimated to be in the millions, has previously been unavailable.

Medicaid expansion under the ACA could affect as many as 15 million nonelderly individuals if every state participates. The researchers estimate that nearly 15 percent of this population, some 2.2 million people, currently have a substance use disorder but are ineligible for Medicaid coverage under current guidelines. 

“We have evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders that people in need are not receiving. This increase in coverage has the potential to significantly increase treatment rates ,” said Susan Busch, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Substance use disorders exact a high social cost. Reducing substance use could have far-reaching effects.”

Busch and colleagues compared current low-income Medicaid enrollees with uninsured individuals with household incomes that should qualify them in 2014 for Medicaid coverage. They found that individuals with Medicaid coverage are currently more likely to receive necessary treatment for substance use disorders compared with their uninsured counterparts (31 percent versus 13 percent). 

The ACA was signed into law in 2010. In addition to expanded coverage for people struggling with substance use disorders, it is expected to alter the types and settings of services received and change how these treatments are financed.

The paper appears in the current issue of the journal Psychiatric Services. Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Bloomberg School of Public Health were coauthors on the study.

This article was submitted by Denise L Meyer on March 18, 2013.

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Susan Busch

Professor of Public Health (Health Policy) and Professor in the Institution for Social and Policy Studies