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CARA becomes law with little exuberance

July 25, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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On Friday, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) without much fanfare. Industry leaders note that after such a long journey, this bipartisan effort probably deserves more attention.

“The industry needs to really step back and look at this thing for what it is, which is a magnificent statement on thoughtful policies for treating addiction in the United States,” Marvin Ventrell, executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), tells Behavioral Healthcare. “And let’s recognize that our tempered enthusiasm because of the lack of funding in CARA is appropriate.”

It’s true that several attempts were made to attach as much $920 million in appropriations to CARA, but none of them stuck. In his statement after signing the bill into law, President Obama said he was “deeply disappointed that Republicans failed to provide any real resources.”

Republicans have vowed to provide the funding from other earmarked federal healthcare dollars.

Early optimism

Ventrell says the initial excitement around CARA built up as it wended through the House and Senate and onto the conference committee over the past few months.

“Then things started to get weird with more politics and more conservative fiscal elements,” he says.

At one point, the White House hinted at a possible veto if CARA didn’t have appropriated funding, but few believed the president would refuse to sign a landmark bill that identifies addiction as a disease, which must be addressed as a public health priority. In the end, CARA became law without dedicated funding, prompting what Ventrell calls “confused satisfaction.”

But funding wasn’t the only reason behind the lack of revelry.

Friday marked one of the transition days between the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, so many observers likely overlooked the news quietly coming out of the White House. Whether CARA’s passage will be a talking point for Democrats in Philadelphia this week remains to be seen, but politicians up for re-election have been pointing to CARA as a bipartisan success they’d like to take some credit for.

“Legislation like this has not come through our federal government previously, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to move forward in a way we have not before,” Ventrell says.

Moving forward, Ventrell says he’d like to see the conversation around addiction expand beyond the opioid crisis to include all addictions and how treatment and recovery service delivery models can be optimized for all communities.