With less than 4,000 beds dedicated to substance abuse treatment and all of them full on a given day, the system may be overwhelmed next year.
Minnesota's network of substance abuse treatment centers could be severely tested by the national health care overhaul.
More than 54,000 uninsured Minnesotans with serious drug and alcohol problems will suddenly become eligible for insurance that covers treatment with the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, according to federal survey data. With less than 4,000 beds dedicated to substance abuse treatment and all of them full on a given day, the system may be overwhelmed next year.
Yet state officials say their concern is not so much about having enough beds as making sure the state has enough counselors.
That's been a longstanding issue, but Dustin Chapman, a behavioral liaison at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, said Minnesota schools have already begun to put more students through programs for chemical dependency counseling.
Chapman said the state's bed count may not accurately portray how it can treat substance abuse because not every patient needs residential treatment. Plus, he said, the 54,000 newly insured people won't seek treatment at once.
"The bottom line is, I don't know if 4,000 beds is not enough or just right," Chapman said.
Dave Hartford, Minnesota's assistant commissioner of chemical and mental health, said he thinks the state is in better shape to handle a surge of patients than much of the nation. Many treatment programs in the state are outpatient, which makes it easier to expand to provide more counseling than at an inpatient facility, he said.
Hartford said data from the Department of Human Services shows that treatment programs throughout the state handle about 50,000 episodes in a given year. He expects that to increase by about 3,000 with the Affordable Care Act.
And the state is starting to shift from handling substance abuse on a case-by-case basis to a model of continuing treatment. In theory, that will improve outcomes and reduce relapses. Chapman said the health care law will help the state's health care system address addiction earlier by screening for possible problems in primary care and following up more after treatment.
"We've been on this road for some time now," Hartford said. "The Affordable Care Act really just helps have additional flexibility and funding to make the system improvements that we've been wanting to do."