As the ACA expands coverage for addiction, can the system deliver?

The signatures of President Barack Obama, Vice...
The signatures of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on the health insurance reform bill signed in the East Room of the White House, March 23, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The AP recently ran an article looking at the horizon for addition treatment under the Affordable Care Act expansion in insurance coverage:

The surge in patients is expected to push a marginal part of the health care system out of church basements and into the mainstream of medical care. Already, the prospect of more paying patients has prompted private equity firms to increase their investments in addiction treatment companies, according to a market research firm. And families fighting the affliction are beginning to consider a new avenue for help.

But will those who suddenly get coverage for treatment have a place to get it?

Haymarket Center in Chicago illustrates what may await many addicts. One Friday morning, seven men slumped in chairs in a small, bare room with only an untouched rack of health brochures to break the monotony of waiting for the chance of a detox bed that night. The six-story brick building is a beehive of programs for 300-plus patients: short term detox, long-term residential treatment, recovery units where people can live sober while looking for work. Everything is overbooked. On this day, the waiting list totaled 91 people who want help.

“Last year the state cut our dollars so we had to cut back our beds,” said Dan Lustig, vice president of Haymarket, which gets most of its funding from the government. “We had clients literally pleading for services. Some were sleeping on our front steps.”

In Illinois, where 92,000 people get treatment now, nearly 235,000 addicts and alcoholics without insurance will be able to get coverage next year. Not only beds are lacking. The pool of physicians who are addiction specialists must grow by 3,000 nationwide, almost double what it is now, to handle the demand, according to health industry experts.

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