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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

How the Affordable Care Act Impacts Our Addiction Treatment Problem


Most people who say they need addiction treatment don't actually get it. Here's how "Obamacare" can help bridge this gap—although the situation remains far from perfect.

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA), AKA “Obamacare,” makes it possible for millions of people to gain access to addiction treatments that were previously unavailable to them. Prior to the implementation of the ACA—most of which happened in January this year—insurance companies often didn’t provide coverage for addiction treatments, leaving most specialized facilities prohibitively priced for a lot of people. In fact, as the graphics published by the treatment facility Michael’s House show, 23.1 million people identified as needing treatment for addiction in 2012 (according to SAMHSA), but 20.6 million of them were unable to get into a treatment program.

How can the ACA help solve this massive problem?

The hope is that under the new legislation, people will have more opportunity to obtain inpatient care for addiction, if necessary. The chart based on stats from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation suggests that over 27 million people who previously did not have health insurance now have access to it thanks to the ACA. What’s more, doctors can now work directly with insurance companies to request specific treatment plans, and to advocate for their patients in a way that was not previously possible.

There is still more work to be done.

However, as a result of budget cuts and conflicting policies, some treatment programs have been drastically reduced or eliminated entirely. So even with the new insurance coverage possibilities, some people still won’t be able to get the addiction services they need. Although the ACA defines addiction treatment as “essential,” it also allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of what is and is not covered. Some insurance companies don’t cover addiction-related medications at all, while others drastically limit the types of psychotherapies provided—even if these things are a necessary component of a patient’s treatment mix.