ANNAPOLIS – Private insurers should shoulder one-third of the cost of a 10-year $300 million drug and alcohol treatment initiative, said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, head of the task force that presented the initiative Tuesday.
The Drug Treatment Task Force also recommended creation of a Drug and Alcohol Council to oversee the activities and funding of state drug treatment facilities.
“For too long, in too many Maryland neighborhoods, addicts could buy drugs more easily than they could get treatment,” said Townsend in a news conference in the Miller Senate Office Building. “The recommendations of this task force will guide our efforts to ensure the state is aggressively attacking drug abuse and providing the resources communities need to effectively reduce addiction.”
The main problem with drug addiction is the $5.5 billion it costs Maryland in legal fees and health care, said Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, an emergency room doctor and task force vice chairman.
In fiscal year 1999, 232,807 Marylanders needed alcohol and drug treatment, according to the report, yet only 30 percent of them received it.
“If we focus on this population (drug addicts), we’ll have a safer, better state,” Townsend said in an interview later. With the creation of a Drug and Alcohol Council, “we’ll have the strongest accountability measure than any other state.”
The treatment idea won support even from Republicans in the General Assembly.
“It should have been done a long time ago,” said Delegate Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, House minority leader. “We spend too much money on prisons.”
For drug treatment advocates, the task force’s report is a breath of fresh air.
“We see addiction as a public health matter,” said Ann T. Ciekot, director of advocacy of Maryland’s National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “When people are in treatment, crimes go down.”
NCADD, a non-profit organization, lobbies for drug treatment programs.
“We desperately need more treatment money,” Ciekot said. “Part of the reason some people are not able to get treatment is because insurance companies don’t cover as much as they used to.”
Helping the state with its funding “will save (private insurance companies) money down the road as well,” she said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening gave the drug treatment program a boost with $47.2 million in his fiscal year 2002 budget – a $22.2 million increase from last year.
Thanks to the report, Morhaim said, the Legislature will be more supportive of the drug treatment budget. But the program also needs the help of private insurers, he said.
Some of the health insurers who cover drug treatment costs don’t always provide their clients with the care they need, he said. For example, instead of paying an employee’s costs for a stay in a halfway house, a company will pay for a cheaper three-day detoxification program.
D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist for Maryland Association of Health Plans, said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t seen the report.
Private companies can’t be forced to contribute to the costs of running the state’s drug treatment initiative, Morhaim said, but the task force’s report strongly suggests they do so.
To that Townsend said: “We need to change the attitudes of private insurers.”
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