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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Drexel Study Finds Opioid Users 50 Percent More Likely to Get Treatment under Obamacare

Once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was fully implemented in 2014, people who struggled with opioid addiction were 50 percent more likely to get treatment and twice as likely to have that treatment paid for by insurance than before, according to a new Drexel University study.

Dr. Ryan McKenna an assistant professor in health management and policy at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health containing data from 4,000 people diagnosed with opioid use disorder between 2008 and 2014, spanning the period before and after full ACA implementation.

Prior to national implementation, only about 25 percent of those with opioid use disorder reported receiving treatment, with the lowest rates of treatment being among the uninsured.

Looking at the population dealing with opioid use disorder, McKenna hoped to discover how the implementation process of the ACA affected their insurance status, treatment status, and treatment payment method. Once the law was fully implemented, the data on these points showed significant progress.

Going from what he termed the “partial-ACA” to the full, final ACA, McKenna found that the odds for people with opioid use disorder not being insured declined by 89 percent, while the odds of not receiving treatment due to financial considerations dropped by 45 percent, both strong indications of progress. Additionally, respondents were 16 and 46 percent more likely, respectively, to get treatment and have it paid for by insurance

“While some of the provisions of the ACA were implemented prior to 2014 — like early Medicaid expansion and the young adult mandate — several policy measures went into effect in 2014,” McKenna explained. “The inclusion of mental health services and addiction treatment into the ACA’s 10 essential health benefits — along with the establishment of health insurance exchanges and the option for states to expand Medicaid coverage up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line — all played key roles to extending coverage to those with opioid use disorder.”

McKenna found that odds of insurance coverage increased by 72 percent for people with opioid use disorder between 2008 and 2014. The odds of not receiving substance use disorder treatment due to financial concerns dropped by 50 percent. And the odds of receiving treatment increased by 158 percent, with the odds of the respondent’s insurance paying for treatment climbing by 213 percent.

Full implementation of the ACA really appeared to be the key, according to the data. McKenna looked at the years 2009 through 2013 — when some measures such as the young adult mandate and early Medicaid expansion came online — to contrast the complete product from  “partial-ACA.”

While it appears that the ACA had a strong, positive impact on people with opioid use disorder, McKenna’s data showed that the majority of people with it still don’t receive treatment (just 33 percent do) and have it paid for by their insurance provider (only 16 percent). Moreover, 27 percent still don’t have health insurance and 38 percent have chosen to forgo treatment because it would be too expensive.

Dr. McKenna, published his findings in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.