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How does Obama’s health care reform affect substance abuse treatment for Medicare patients?

Co-Authored by: Jamie Felzer

Medicare and addiction?  Do you typically think of these things as related? After the recent passage of Obama’s health care system reform, those utilizing Medicare and other government-sponsored systems will obviously be affected.

Government sponsored substance abuse treatment

A recent study on substance abuse treatment services for people with Medicare found that those who were younger than 65, and with a disability or mental disorder, had a much higher prevalence of substance abuse. About 100,000 people that fit into this category.

When it comes to debating health care reform, the elderly are the ones that are most often discussed as being affected by the changes in Medicare.  However, there is also a large population of people who are not elderly but also rely on the government-provided health care (like those on Medicaid for instance).

Most often substance abuse treatment co-occurs with mental health disorders, especially in the younger group receiving Medicare services.  76% of the younger claimants received substance abuse and mental health services while for those over age 65, only 54% received both treatments.  However, putting these percentages into the broader picture, only 1% of the elderly Medicare claimants have a primary diagnosis of substance abuse while for the younger group that same classification represents 5.7% of their age group.

How the law will affect substance abuse treatment

Part of Obama’s new health care reform increases the amount of research conducted regarding Medicare/Medicaid patients and their service utilization.  This research will focus on areas of providers, new treatment methods, as well as payment options to best suit all claimants. This could prove very beneficial, especially for those patients seeking treatment for co-morbid disorders.

With the recent passage in Congress of mental health parity laws that are set to begin in 2010, the healthcare system’s overhall should allow substance abuse treatment and mental health services to finally catch up with the rest of the health-care world. American will be far better off for it.


Utilization of substance abuse treatment services under Medicare, 2001-2002. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 36 (2009) 414-419

Holahan & Blumberg. An Analysis of the Obama Healthcare Plan. Urban Institute Health Policy Center.

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