Health Care Policy Update: Substance Abuse Treatment

Limestone College Social Work

In our recent post on Becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor, we shared some of the health care issues surrounding the fight against drug addiction, including the significant treatment gap in America.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), more than 20 million Americans suffering from substance abuse who needed treatment in 2013 did not receive it. Addressing the treatment gap will require a multipronged approach according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH). Some of the strategies suggested on the NIH website include “increasing access to effective treatment, achieving insurance parity, reducing stigma, and raising awareness among both patients and health care professionals of the value of addiction treatment.”

In an effort to address some of these issues, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum earlier this year creating a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force. The objective of the Task Force is to focus key Federal agencies on helping to ensure Americans receive the coverage and treatment that they need.

Last June, the Task Force held a listening session with key stakeholders to discuss mental health and substance abuse parity implementation. Fifteen leaders of organizations representing consumer and provider groups joined the session while other interested parities were encouraged to submit written comments.

In September 2016, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) submitted a letter to the Task Force highlighting “the need for health insurance companies to provide greater transparency in how they determine parity and provide access to behavioral health services.” The NASW August 2016 Advocacy Update notes that the letter also encouraged the federal and state government to define mental health parity and urged implementation of evidence-based behavior health treatment.

NASW’s proactive approach to voicing its concerns and helping to ensure all people have access to resources such as substance abuse treatment highlights one of the ways social workers can use advocacy in the fight against drug addiction. A big part of that is having an understanding of current policy issues and social welfare programs like the Affordable Care Act.

That’s why at Limestone College, students pursuing a Bachelors of Social Work Program, will take SW 204 – Social Welfare Programs and Policy. Among the topics covered in this course are social welfare and social issues such as substandard housing, poor health care coverage, inadequate social security programs and more. Students will also learn about the political and economic factors that affect social welfare policy and planning.

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