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Health overhaul may grow Indiana addiction services

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The possibility of thousands of Indiana residents becoming eligible for addiction treatment under the federal health overhaul has state officials and providers preparing for an expansion.

About 60,000 Indiana residents per year now receive treatment for addiction to alcohol and drugs, federal officials estimate, and 38,264 Indiana addicts could become newly eligible for insurance on Jan. 1, an Associated Press analysis of government data revealed.

While it remains unclear whether Gov. Mike Pence and federal officials will agree on a Medicaid expansion in Indiana, providers and state officials are planning for more addicts seeking treatment.

In part because of the health care overhaul, Indianapolis-based Fairbanks is adding outpatient sites in Kokomo and Plainfield and has an extended-care program for women in Shelbyville opening this summer, said Mark Monson, president and CEO.

"We've also worked with various insurance carriers, we're trying to extend our reach and are actively looking at ... rural hospitals where those resources might not be," Monson said.

Fairbanks isn't expecting an influx of new patients all at once, though.

"The expansion in itself will take time," Monson said. "I think it'll take time for the consumers to be educated."

Stephen McCaffrey, the president and CEO of Mental Health America of Indiana, said Indiana, like most states, isn't currently ready to meet the needs of all newly eligible addiction patients if indeed a Medicaid expansion occurs in this state.

However, a key change under the overhaul is addiction treatment will be treated the same as that for physical complaints, McCaffrey said. That could result in higher pay and more doctors and other providers entering the field.

"Substance abuse will be treated as the physical disease it is, so that's very exciting," McCaffrey.

Under legislation approved this year by the General Assembly, the state's Commission on Mental Health is directed to examine the address the state's shortage of mental health professionals when it meets later this year. One way of doing that might be through an expansion of a loan forgiveness program now available to primary care providers, McCaffrey said.

"We're kind of having to ramp up from the bottom. We might be able to do that with loan forgiveness," said McCaffrey, whose group represents mental health professionals.

The Division of Mental Health and Addiction of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration has taken several steps to prepare for a possible influx of new patients. They include hosting a two-day meeting with providers to help them prepare for changes to addiction treatment under the health care overhaul and arranging training on integrating addiction treatment with primary health care, spokeswoman Marni Lemons said.

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