FACTSHEET: Closing the Coverage Gap Helps Combat Drug and Alcohol Problems

April 2015
Accepting federal funds to close the health insurance coverage gap in North Carolina would expand access to treatment for drug and alcohol problems. There are an estimated 150,000 uninsured North Carolinians with mental health and/or drug and alcohol problems. Many of them are unable to afford the treatment they need. Drug and alcohol treatment is cost eff ective—saving as much as $22 in the health care and criminal justice systems for every $1 spent on treatment.
Providing health insurance coverage for those who fall into the gap—500,000 working adults, veterans and others in North Carolina who are not eligible for private insurance tax credits but who can’t aff ord to buy coverage on their own—ensures treatment for drug and alcohol problems is available to those who need it. In short, expanding coverage through Medicaid increases treatment options for people with alcohol and drug problems.
Drug and Alcohol Problems in North Carolina
Alcohol and drug problems, known broadly as substance use disorders, are a category of treatable chronic brain diseases caused by misuse of alcohol or drugs. Substance use disorders challenge people from all walks of life, without regard to age, occupation or income level.
In North Carolina, untreated substance use disorders have a detrimental eff ect on the state, have a projected cost of $7.6 billion as 15 percent of total state spending are associated with missing out on opportunities to prevent and treat substance use and disorders. In North Carolina, nearly 9 percent of residents report alcohol or illicit drug dependence or abuse in 2012-2013. Another 5 percent of North Carolinians reported non-medical use of pain relievers.
Closing the Gap: Nationwide Successes
Closing the coverage gap is yielding great results across the country. The federal funds are already set aside, and it’s up to North Carolina to accept these funds to close the gap and off er coverage to thousands of North Carolinians.
• In states that have already closed the coverage gap, a U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services report finds a significant drop in uninsured people using hospital emergency rooms
and in hospital admissions. Projected savings in uncompensated care are $4.2 billion in these
• A recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says states that closed the coverage gap
are projecting lower state spending growth in Medicaid compared with states that have
rejected the federal funding.
• Treatment for substance use disorders results in savings in health care costs, reducing the
use of expensive emergency services, and in the criminal justice system, reducing crime,
recidivism and incarceration rates.
Treatment Gaps in North Carolina
While people from all walks of life struggle with substance use disorders, access to treatment options is limited by income. Approximately one half million North Carolinians would benefit from Medicaid Expansion.
Prevention, drug enforcement, treatment and recovery services are all part of managing the effect
of substance use disorders on individuals, families and communities.
• PREVENTION: $40 million block grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration for address prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
• ENFORCEMENT: For the 2013-2014 fi scal year, North Carolina received over $1 million in
federal grant money to address drug enforcement from the Department of Justice.
• TREATMENT: Accepting federal funds to increase access to aff ordable and eff ective
substance use treatment is the missing piece in North Carolina’s ability to address drug and
alcohol problems.
• RECOVERY: Millions of people complete treatment for drug and alcohol problems and enter
into long-term recovery. Coverage for recovery services such as outpatient counseling can
ensure that people get the continued support they need to stay well, hold jobs, pay taxes and
take care of their kids.
Investing in treatment for substance use disorders is smart and cost-eff ective. Closing the coverage
gap is one of the most accessible, aff ordable and valuable tools available in the eff ort to reduce
and combat drug and alcohol problems.
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