Parity for Drug Addiction Treament – A Distant Dream

Cc photo by Bohringer Friedrich 398px-AchdammSport

Creative Commons photo by Bohringer Friedrich

Under the current healthcare system, quality affordable healthcare for addiction treatment is not a reality for most families in the United States. Only premium healthcare providers cover state-of-the-art treatment for addiction, including long-term residential programs based on the latest brain-based research.

While the Affordable Care Act is vastly superior to what we had before, it still creates a system that discriminates against low-income or no-income patients, that is 99% of people suffering from severe, long-term addiction disorders.

Expanded Medicare will pay for some treatment for the destitute, but it does not include residential programs, nor many of the state-of-the-art therapies available to the 1%.

Recently a brave but grieving family spoke at a briefing held by the House Caucus on Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery. Bill and Margot William’s full story and statement can be read on their website HERE.

They tell of how their 24-year-old son William died of “acute and chronic substance abuse” which caused “complications of acute heroin intoxication”. And how they donated his body to the Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons for research, to help others suffering from substance abuse disorders.

Bill writes:

William’s cause of death could have been listed as “Institutional Indifference”.  Failed insurance, clumsy coordination between health care providers, and antiquated treatment practices doomed him.

In another time, in a better era, William might have entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons, not as a cadaver, but as a gifted and talented young man, prepared to serve others.

He continues:

Ignorance about substance use disorder remains the order of the day. It is the plague of our time. Anything we say that is repetition bears repetition until it manifests itself as policy change and practice of substance and consequence.

Parity is about more than receiving equal health care insurance for substance use disorder and mental health issues.

Parity means an individual can say, “I have a substance use disorder,” without discrimination, judgment or censure.

Parity is when family members can stand beside the afflicted and say, “…and we are all getting counseling and support to aid in our loved one’s recovery.”

Here is his list of what parity means:

  • Parity means that substance use disorder is recognized by laymen and professionals alike as a brain disease.
  • Parity means that funding for research for substance use disorder is on the same level as that for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
  • Parity means that people with substance abuse disorder are treated with the same compassion and understanding, treated with the same urgency, accorded the same dignity, as any other patient with any other medical or surgical need. 
  • Parity is when physicians, not health insurers practice addiction medicine, when physicians, not actuaries determine the best course of treatment.
  • Parity is when physicians are trained to recognize and treat substance use disorder in medical school with the same rigor given to any other disease.  
  • Parity will be when physicians in any specialty can recognize, treat, or refer patients to a proper source of treatment. 
  • Parity will be when there are sufficient numbers of physicians board certified in addiction medicine.
  • Parity will become practice when more than a mere 10% of the 23 million plus Americans who suffer from substance abuse disorder are properly diagnosed and treated.
  • Parity will come about when rehabilitation facilities have medical doctors on staff, all the time.
  • Parity is when physicians, politicians, school principals, police and parents all realize that not only are they responsible for helping to treat this disease, but also that they and their families are as susceptible as anyone else to being afflicted by the disease.
  • Parity will arrive when we stop pretending will power is a cure for a neurological problem.  Will power needs to be exercised, not by the afflicted, but by policy makers who can help change the course of this epidemic.

I would add to that list:

Parity means that all who suffer from substance abuse disorders receive the same quality healthcare options for treatment, regardless of their income or ability to pay.

Thank you, Bill and Margot, for speaking out and sharing your story with us.

I hope that all of us reading this will stand with them in this fight for parity.


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