LOCAL OFFICIALS SUPPORT MEDICAID COVERAGE FOR SUBSTANCE-ABUSE TREATMENT
Local health-care advocates are cheering the prospect of the state paying now to forego footing a more expensive bill to house drug addicts in prison.
A bill waiting on a nod from Gov. Bill Owens would add substance-abuse treatment to the benefits under Medicaid, which provides health care for poor Coloradans.
Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland noted Colorado is one of three states that has yet to include substance-abuse treatment under its umbrella of Medicaid benefits.
"We're really behind the ball," she said.
House Bill 1015, sponsored by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, garnered bipartisan support. Grand Junction Democrat Bernie Buescher and Grand Junction Republican Josh Penry backed the plan on the House floor.
Supporters say the measure makes dollars and sense.
Diann Rice with the Mesa County Department of Human Services said the proposal would offer drug and alcohol addicts a chance to rebuild their lives and reverse their dependence on government services.
"If you stop to think what addiction does to a person's ability to function in the community ... if we can address those issues, it makes perfect sense that they're going to be able to hold a job and get off Medicaid," Rice said.
It costs the state about $30,000 a year to house one prison inmate, but Romanoff said the consequences of deferring treatment are measured not only in the number and cost of incarcerations.
Those consequences exact an emotional toll when children of drug and alcohol addicts are placed in foster care. Other children born to addict parents may suffer disabilities caused by fetal alcohol syndrome and require special education.
Romanoff said spending a billion dollars annually on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse isn't a sound budget strategy, especially in light of the state's current budget problems.
Buescher said money to fund substance-abuse treatment is in the 2005-2006 budget.
"From a fiscal point of view, it just makes so much sense," he said. "Beyond that, it's just the right thing to do."
The bill's supporters said the proposal should pay for itself in a few years.
Romanoff, whose mother was a social worker and father a prosecutor, gleaned from his parents' work two markedly different options for treating drug and alcohol addicts.
"You can treat it on the front end or on the back end," Romanoff said. "It turns out to be a lot more expensive to wait."
Wed, 18 May 2005
Source: Daily Sentinel, The (Grand Junction, CO)
Copyright: 2005 Cox Newspapers, Inc.