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Bill Proposes $50M to Expand, Ease Access to Inpatient Addiction Treatment

Senate sponsors cite increased demand, more patients expected under federal Affordable Care Act

Already-high demand for addiction and mental-health services is likely to increase when the Affordable Care Act takes effect – and that has state lawmakers proposing a $50 million expansion of facilities and services.

Sponsors of the bill, S-2570, released by the Senate Health, Senior Citizens and Human Services Committee yesterday, say it would expand the capacity of the state’s addiction treatment infrastructure, including more inpatient treatment.

“We don’t do nearly enough for people who need access to drug and alcohol treatment and mental-health treatment,” said Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman.

Demand is expected to grow because of expanded federal requirements that insurance cover such treatment, as well as the increased number of people who will be insured under the Affordable Care Act.

“I think this is a real chance to look at what some additional money could get us and how it would be coordinated and integrated,” with the increased demand, Scotti said.

Half of adults and two-thirds of adolescents who need addiction treatment are already not able to get it, according to Roseanne Scotti, state director of the nonprofit advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance. She said she has worked with parents who have seen children die from overdoses while waiting for treatment or after being released from treatment due to a lack of funds. Scotti said every dollar spent on treatment saves seven dollars in other expenses , including law-enforcement costs and lost worker productivity.

Vitale also said the measure would benefit people who don’t have insurance coverage for mental—health or addiction treatment.

“Unless you’re lucky enough to have insurance that would cover it, or wealthy enough to afford it on your own, people who work hard every day, average working stiffs who have a substance-abuse or mental-health problem, will have a real hard time finding any” treatment, Vitale said.

The funding would be used to add to the number of beds available for inpatient treatment and generally expand the capacity of both for-profit and not-for-profit providers, Vitale said. The Department of Human Services would distribute the funds through grants to providers.

Gov. Chris Christie has generally opposed supplemental budget appropriations, although Vitale noted that Christie himself has made changes in the middle of a budget year to meet his own priorities.

While the current version of the bill would add the $50 million to the current fiscal year budget, Vitale said he also planned to introduce the measure as a budget resolution so that it would be part of the budget in the fiscal year which begins July 1.

The amount would represent a 12.2-percent increase from the $406.6 million that Christie included for grants to addiction and mental-health treatment providers in his proposed budget.

Vitale added that the amount proposed in his bill could be reduced as part of the budget-negotiation process. “It will be a bipartisan budget resolution,” he said.

The committee vote was bipartisan, with all six committee Democrats voting for it along with two Republicans. Sen. Samuel D. Thompson (R-Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean) was the only one to vote against the measure, while Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Atlantic, Burlington and Camden) abstained from the vote.

Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex), the bill’s other primary sponsor, has been calling for increased inpatient-addiction treatment for years. Rice has repeatedly asked legislators to shift the focus from other programs – such as needle exchange – intended to aid drug addicts.

“The whole reality is that people don’t want to be junkies the rest of their lives, to use needles,” said Rice, adding, “A lot of them get discouraged, because when they go to try and get some treatment, there’s not enough beds for them, so they go back to the streets.”

Rice said he preferred that the entire $50 million be devoted to inpatient treatment, which he said is more effective than outpatient treatment in breaking addictions.

Rice was hopeful that the measure would receive GOP support, noting that senior Republican Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean) voted to release the bill. However, Rice expressed skepticism that Christie would approve the additional funding.

“I think the governor is opposed to anything that’s going to really substantially help the majority of urban dwellers in particular, and women and ethnic minorities in general, (as well as) middle-class and low-wage earners,” Rice said. “It’s always an excuse – money.”

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts rejected Rice’s contention..

“The governor has championed urban issues, particularly on the education front, but really across the board, and when it comes to economic development as well,” Roberts said. The governor also specifically targeted addiction by instituting a drug court program that diverts non-violent drug offenders toward treatment, he noted.

Roberts said the administration would consider any legislation, adding that lawmakers would need to agree to additional funding for it to be included in budget talks.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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