PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 7, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) held the first of six public hearings today to examine existing laws governing access to drug and alcohol treatment and identify ways to help consumers access treatment.
"Several critical themes emerged during today's testimony," said DDAP Secretary Gary Tennis. "We heard time and again how important it is for people with the disease of addiction to have access to the full continuum of care. We also heard what we have been hearing for months — wait times for detoxification and residential treatment beds are unacceptable and adding to the growing number of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania.
"More than 3,500 people died of drug overdose in Pennsylvania in 2015. The insight we gained today will be invaluable to the task force convened to address these very barriers to addiction treatment and to reversing the tide of rising overdose deaths."
Those testifying also discussed existing laws, including Acts 106, 152 and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) of 2008, that, despite providing for access to appropriate levels and lengths of care in most cases, are often not followed.
Act 106 entitles individuals covered under many group insurance plans in Pennsylvania to coverage for clinically appropriate alcohol and drug addiction treatment, with the level of care and length of stay determined by a licensed physician or licensed psychologist. Act 152 requires state Medicaid to provide coverage for the full continuum of treatment, including but not limited to intervention services, non-hospital detoxification, outpatient, rehabilitation, and halfway houses in the continuum of covered addiction treatment services, including the clinically appropriate length of stay in residential treatment, as determined by the Pennsylvania Client Placement Criteria. MHPAEA requires health insurance carriers that offer behavioral health and substance use disorder benefits to achieve coverage parity between those benefits and medical/surgical benefits.
"As someone in long-term recovery, I know firsthand how important it is to have access to treatment," said Patrick Kennedy, who testified at the hearing and is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the nation's leading political voice on mental illness, addiction, and other brain diseases. "I applaud this task force and Secretary Tennis for tackling this important issue, especially given how hard the opioid overdose crisis has hit the state. We need true parity for these diseases in Pennsylvania, and my hope is that your efforts will help provide a blueprint for the nation."
Other issues identified as barriers to treatment at the hearing included lack of funding across the treatment continuum and inadequate reimbursement rates, both of which have strained the treatment system.
"The worst ever overdose death and opioid addiction epidemic, increasing complexity of the disease of addiction along with co-occurring mental health issues, a more enlightened approach to treating criminal justice offenders rather than simply incarcerating, and an expansion of Medicaid have all put great stress on our treatment system," said Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, who along with Tennis, is co-chairing the hearings. "However, we know that treatment works and recovery is possible. We need to do everything we can to ensure barriers do not block the path to recovery. These hearings will help us do just that."
Those testifying at the hearing included:
- Patrick Kennedy, former U.S. congressman, prime sponsor of, and leading national advocate for enforcement of, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
- Dario V. La Rocca, M.D., behavioral health medical director, Independence Blue Cross
- Charlie Folks, director of Community Integration and Strategic Partnerships, Eagleville Hospital
- Diane Rosati, executive director, Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission
- Carol Rostucher, family member and founder, Angels in Motion
- Michael Harle, CEO, Gaudenzia, Inc.
- Joanne Ramsey, family member
- Vince Brown, executive director, Chester County Drug & Alcohol Services
House Resolution 590 charges DDAP with establishing and administering a task force to review compliance with all current relevant laws, regulations and agreements. In July, DDAP convened the task force, which will hold five more public hearings across the commonwealth.
The multi-agency initiative includes representation on the task force from the Pennsylvania Departments of Health (DOH) and Human Services (DHS), the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID), addiction treatment programs, patient advocates and parents and loved ones of those with addiction.
A report detailing the task force's findings as well as recommendations to address identified barriers to treatment is due to the General Assembly in May 2017.
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs