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New Health Law Will Provide More Addicts With Treatment

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 12:02 PM EDT

The federal health care overhaul will make 133,000 Arizonans with drug and alcohol addictions newly eligible for insurance next year, putting added pressure on substance abuse treatment providers.

Arizona's behavioral health system is overseen by the state and can be expanded easily, according to a public health expert and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) . The state is also among the few that cover childless adults under its Medicaid program.

"The system that's in place in Arizona, the infrastructure is strong and could easily be ramped up to cover this demand," said Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor of public health policy and management at the University of Arizona who also helped design New Mexico's health insurance exchanges in 2011.

According to federal statistics approximately 11 percent of the state's population needs treatment for substance abuse. This accounts for 531,000 people, but only 36,000 are currently receiving treatment.

An analysis conducted by the Associated Press shows Arizona's newly insured will include about 63,000 who gain Medicaid coverage if the Legislature approves a planned expansion proposed by Gov. Jan Brewer's. A federal-run health exchange is also expected to provide more than 50,000 with private insurance coverage. The analysis compared federal data on the addiction rates in all 50 states, as well as the capacity of treatment programs and the provisions of the new health law.

The state had cut about 140,000 people from its Medicaid due to an enrollment freeze by a state budget cut. Those people were being treated before, so the state's facilities are in better shape to handle the increased load compared to states that did not provide coverage for that population, says Monica Coury, spokeswoman for Arizona's Medicaid plan.

"For Arizona, it's a population that is already known to us, so we were treating those people already," Coury said.

Arizona oversees regional and tribal behavioral health authorities which provide programs for mental health and substance abuse treatment across the state. With supplemental funding from federal and state sources, Medicaid is the largest provider of substance abuse treatment. 

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