This week many of us are celebrating the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the basic provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which will make good health possible for millions of Americans currently blocked from health care treatment because of sky high costs. The ruling is especially welcome for low-income people and communities of color, who are more likely to be uninsured, but perhaps it offers the most relief for people suffering from addiction.
Because of the health care overhaul, for the first time in U.S. history, there will be fewer barriers to quality addiction treatment. Even more importantly, addiction treatment will be integrated into mental health and physical health care. With this much needed change in our approach to addiction treatment, our country can finally start treating addiction, a chronic disease, as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice problem.
The lack of community-based services, combined with current drug policy, which criminalizes people with addictions, unnecessarily forces many people into the criminal justice system where addiction services are even more limited. This reality creates both a national health care crisis and a serious barrier to establishing a health-centered approach to addiction. Once people who suffer from addiction have a record, they also face additional barriers in finding employment, housing, and other basic services that would allow them to become full members of an open society. While the healthcare overhaul does not directly address drug policy, integrating addiction treatment into holistic healthcare is a monumental shift that will do much to change how America thinks about and approaches addiction.
Currently, of the 23 million Americans addicted to drugs and alcohol, only one in ten actually receive the treatment they need. For many, this is because they are uninsured and can't afford services. But even people with insurance who are suffering from addiction often go untreated, because substance abuse services are not included in their plans. This will soon change. Under the Act, substance use disorder services, including addition treatment, are now a required benefit.
Over the past 15 years, the Open Society Foundations have worked with community advocates and policymakers to establish addiction as a chronic disease and a public health issue and to expand access to treatment for the uninsured and underinsured. We will build upon those efforts and work to ensure that the Affordable Care Act is adequately implemented. Notwithstanding the health care reform ruling, there are still significant hurdles that low-income, marginalized populations face in accessing healthcare and addiction treatment. At a minimum, health benefits must adequately address the needs and circumstances of vulnerable populations, including people returning to society after serving time in prison.
Access to affordable healthcare will do a great deal to help people stabilize their lives both physically and financially, allowing for their full participation in civic, economic, and cultural life. It is our goal that all members of communities across the United States—particularly those who struggle with addiction—receive the treatment and care they need.