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Between 3 million and 5 million new patients could soon receive addiction treatment under the Affordable Care Act, according to the Associated Press. The change will have a major impact on treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

Currently only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States is dedicated to addiction treatment, the AP reports. Approximately 10 percent of the 23 million Americans with drug and alcohol problems receive treatment, government figures indicate. Until now, a major reason for the large number of people not receiving treatment has been a lack of health insurance.

Under healthcare reform, millions of people will become eligible for insurance coverage starting in January. The number of people seeking addiction treatment could double, the article notes.

“There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction,” Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute, told the AP. “That’s because we have a system of treatment that was built for a time when they didn’t understand that addiction was an illness.”

The change may overwhelm many treatment facilities. In more than two-thirds of states, treatment clinics are at 100 percent capacity or will reach that mark soon. The arrival of many new patients could lead to waiting lists of months or longer, according to treatment agencies. Many of them have been shrinking in recent years due to government budget cuts.

The federal government is urging states to expand their Medicaid programs. If 20 states do so, an additional 3.8 million patients with addiction problems would receive insurance, the AP notes. If almost all of the states expanded their Medicaid program, that number could reach 5.5 million. The law also designates addiction treatment as an “essential health benefit” for most commercial health plans.


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