Overdose Awareness Day in NJ: Time to Reflect, Time for Policy Makers to Act
By: Lawrence Downs, CEO, MSNJ
August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event designed to raise awareness of drug addiction as a disease and to help bring attention to the need to reduce the stigma, disgrace and shame that often surrounds treatment, overdose and drug-related deaths.
The members of the Medical Society of New Jersey (MSNJ), especially our addiction specialists, join their colleagues nationwide in commemorating Overdose Awareness Day. They are leading the fight against stigma and are committed to offering patients the best, and most effective course of action in treating their addictions. It is in this vein that MSNJ calls upon New Jersey state policy makers to partner with physicians in the fight, by offering patients obtain better access to addiction treatment options.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to successful treatment. MSNJ strongly supports legislation that would improve insurance coverage of the treatment of mental and behavioral health conditions, including addiction. Senate Bill 324 establishes a Behavioral Health Insurance Claims Advocacy Program, recognizing the difficulty patients face in obtaining coverage for treatment. Senate Bill 2180 requires health benefits plans to provide coverage for behavioral health care services. Both bills recognize patients’ struggles for access to care when insurers either deny their coverage or cover so little that the proposed treatment cannot be effective. For example, carriers regularly first seek to place patients in a lower level of care, like an outpatient program just, “to see if it works,” when in reality, the patient needs a comprehensive inpatient or residential program of care for at least 30 days. Length of treatment is often limited to an amount less than what is needed for meaningful treatment.
In addition to general coverage for mental health and addiction treatment, MSNJ is fighting for insurance coverage of specific, proven treatment models, like medication assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is a widely accepted successful form of treatment which is often rejected by insurance carriers. Assembly Bill 3830 would require insurance coverage for MAT, thus changing the lives of many patients for the better.
While the New Jersey Legislature has taken the lead in moving a package of bills on addiction issues, it has not yet passed these bills, despite the vast number of patients who cannot obtain treatment due to insurance barriers.
We praise Governor Christie for signing several bills in the package, including Assembly Bill 3723, which permits successful completion of drug court for those who are utilizing MAT for substance use disorders. This new law gives hope to those struggling to recover. We hope the Legislature sends the insurance coverage bills to his desk as well.
The stigma that mental and behavioral health patients face is institutional. We ask New Jersey policy makers to break these barriers to access to allow true and desperately needed insurance coverage, so mental health conditions are recognized and covered, just like physical conditions. Our physicians need the support of the carriers and the government to provide their patients with the treatment options they need to recover.