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Substance Abuse Parity Legislation

The latest attempt at new substance abuse legislation is the "Help Expand Access to Recovery and Treatment (HEART) Act of 2003," companion bills introduced in Senate and the House by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN). Ramstad explained current policy to Bill Moyers this week saying, "Right now, there are 16 million alcoholics and addicts in America covered by insurance plans and last year three and a half million of them were denied access to treatment. Even though they had insurance."

The goal of the HEART Act is to achieve parity for substance abuse treatment; to improve benefits for substance abuse treatment under group health plans and health insurance coverage so that it is treated like other diseases. As Ramstad sees it, "Chemical addiction, because it is a disease, should be treated just like any other disease, any other physical disease."

Ramstad has long been a champion of this particular cause, and has presented similar bills in Congress over the past several years. According to ALCOHOLISM & DRUG ABUSE WEEKLY, proponents of the legislation feel that "the timing is ripe for passage of the bills given the renewed efforts to pass comprehensive mental health parity legislation."

This is not the only time new treatment policy legislation has been proposed in the United States. Janet Firshein's articles "Our Current Policy" and "Legislating Insurance Parity for Addiction Treatment," presented in conjunction with the 1999 PBS series "Close to Home: Moyers on Addiction, summarize government spending on drug treatment and legislation on health insurance coverage as of few years ago. The issues being debated today are very much related.

In addition to the insurance parity bill in Congress, other federal action is increasing awareness of addiction and recovery. On September 1st, President George W. Bush proclaimed September 2003 as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, in an effort to highlight his proposal, "Access to Recovery". This initiative calls for expansion of U.S. drug treatment programs through vouchers that could be used for a range of community-based services. The President proposed $600 million in new funds over the next three years, to be accounted for in the budget for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Through this plan, state governors would apply for funds to be awarded through a competitive grant process. New funds could be used to supplement current funding and existing programs.

SAMHSA's Office of Applied Statistics provides the latest national data on substance abuse, drug-related cases, and the nation's treatment system, including statistics on the current source of payment for drug and alcohol treatment.

Learn more about Resources for Recovery.

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