Florida addicts priced out of private rehab

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the St. Petersburg Times, reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton attempts to reconcile a local paradox: The state has suffered from epidemic of prescription drug abuse, yet Florida’s numerous private drug rehab centers remain empty. Why aren’t supply and demand coming together? The short answer, she found, is price.

… few who succumb to prescription drugs get the treatment they need. A national drug study estimated that just 10 percent of those who need treatment ever get it.

The problem is cost. Those with insurance quickly exhaust meager benefits and most don’t have $5,000 to $20,000 a month for round-the-clock rehab.

And the long answer? It comes back to insurance, then takes a sharp turn toward federal legislation. Insurers are reluctant to cover even 30-day treatment stays these days, Anton writes. “The typical plan at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, for example, offered $2,500 a year in substance abuse benefits. Anything over that was not covered.”

It’s a gap that the newly implemented Mental Health Parity and Addiction Treatment Act was designed to overcome. The new laws require that issues like substance abuse be covered at the same level that classic “medical” problems are.

Still, the new regulations apply only to companies with 51 or more employees. Though the law will likely improve care and make it more affordable, it won’t change the way insurers decide what is medically necessary. So with the push away from inpatient treatment, many addicts will try outpatient programs, which cost less, experts say.

Perhaps that is why 120 outpatient programs opened across Florida in the past two years. Florida licensed almost 400 new substance abuse treatment programs across the state, including 62 in the Tampa Bay area. Many focus on intervention, detox and the use of weaning medications such as Suboxone and methadone.

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