Expansion of Drug Treatment in Medicaid Proposed

Feb 2, 2012

Kentucky’s epidemic of substance abuse has officials seeking new methods for breaking the cycle of addiction.  One such approach is built into a spending plan for Medicaid.  The  governor's proposal could provide drug treatment for the first time for adults in the Medicaid program.  The item is included in Governor Beshear's budget plan.

Bernard Powell’s addiction to drugs and alcohol began at 16.  Eventually, Powell lost his wife and job and ended up on the street.  Powell, who then went through a recovery program offered in Louisville, has been clean for 13 years.  Speaking at a rally at the state capitol, he held himself up as an example of what’s possible.

“From begging from change on the corner being here today just shows you that the program of recovery works,” said Powell.

With such success stories in mind, the Governor wants to spend another eight million dollars on drug treatment program covered by Medicaid.   Currently, teenagers, pregnant women, and the mothers of newborn infants can access such treatment programs.

Under the governor’s proposal, outpatient treatment would be expanded to every adult who qualifies for Medicaid.  While many professionals prefer in-patient treatment programs…where the patient lives at a rehabilitation facility…mental health advocate Sheila Shuster says they proposal would be an important step forward.

“Obviously if it were residential only we’re probably dealing with only about 20 percent of that number..so the idea would be once treatment is available maybe we could get people to come into treatment and start in a recovery program earlier on in their illness,” said Shuster.

The program, as designed, would serve about 58-hundred Medicaid patients. 

Coincidentally, with the state releasing non-violent offenders from its prisons, there is demand for drug treatment programs.  Instead of jail time, many must now undergo treatment for substance abuse.  Louisville Senator Julie Denton, who chairs the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, says funding these programs should keep more addicts out of prison.

 “If you can get them the help they need, maybe they’re not gonna end up in the justice system…maybe they’re now gonna be able to get a job and contribute to the economy… support their families and support themselves..so I think it’s money well spent,” added Denton.

In addition to the benefits to individuals battling substance abuse, State Budget Director Mary Lassiter added it’s an investment which should save taxpayer dollars.

 “In the long term, this should save the commonwealth money, we should have fewer individuals presenting themselves for treatments associated with medical conditions resulting from substance abuse, if we treat the substance abuse itself,” said Lassiter.

This is one of just a few areas where the governor wants to increase state spending.  Other state agencies face spending cuts of over eight percent.  So, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bob Leeper admits each budget item which calls for additional funding must be closely scrutinized.

 “It’s gonna be one of those issues where we kind of look at that based on the cuts and those areas being cut are pretty significant,” explained Leeper.

 Budget subcommittees in the Kentucky House are currently reviewing the governor’s spending proposal.  So, a final vote on funding for substance abuse treatment programs is still weeks away.