Addiction expert A. Thomas McLellan, who has more than 35 years of experience in addiction treatment research, helped craft President Obama’s signature health care law
He says the current treatment model was developed in the 1970s specifically for returning Vietnam War veterans when addiction was still thought of as primarily a lifestyle choice rather than a chronic illness, which it is recognized as today.
That treatment model focused on segregating addiction care from the rest of the health care system and treating only the most severe addicts for a set amount of time before releasing them to manage their own addiction.
That model would never be used for treating other chronic diseases, like diabetes, McLellan said during a presentation at the Penn Foundation in West Rockhill recently.
After getting specialty care for diabetes, for example, “Nobody hugs and cries and sends you off to a church basement,” McLellan said. “That is called malpractice.”
Patients with chronic diseases are stabilized and returned to their primary care physicians with a plan for continuing care, McLellan noted. And this is how the Affordable Care Act treats addiction, he pointed out, with Medicaid reimbursements structured just like those for diabetes care, he said.