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The true price of parity

February 18, 2010
by Lindsay Barba, Associate Editor
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William Moyers, survivor and advocate, weighs in on the real-life costs and benefits of equal access to treatment

When the parity regulations were released late last month, its costs were—unsurprisingly—one of the first things on everyone’s mind. While payers seek new ways to manage costs in line with the new regulations, and providers hope to tap into new funding resources, others reflected on the personal costs and benefits of parity for those who need substance abuse treatment.

“What’s really important about parity and the implementation of parity is to realize that we’re talking about human beings here,” William Moyers, Hazelden’s Vice President of External Affairs, says. “We’re not talking just about policy, and we’re not even talking about law; we’re talking about human beings.”

Moyers knows firsthand the struggle that substance abusers go through when attempting to seek adequate treatment, both through his professional role at Hazelden and his own battle with addiction. In recovery for the last 16 years, Moyers has used his experiences with drugs and alcohol to put a face on the problem of inadequate care for substance abusers.
Moyers has been working towards parity since he joined Hazelden in February 1996. In fact, his first day on the job was spent in Washington D.C. helping to push parity through its earliest policy stages. “It was our signature issue, and it became both my professional and my personal passion.” He adds that the 2008 legislation is especially important because “it recognizes the status of substance abuse disorders as deserving of the best treatment available. This was a view that, as recently as 1996, Congress was not ready to embrace.”

But both Hazelden and Moyers are now turning their attention away from the policymakers and towards the consumers, who are finally in a place to benefit from the advocates’ hard work. “While much of the field is very worried and focused on the regulations, we’ve got a slightly different tactic in the sense that we believe that the next major step is to start methodically educating consumers about the reality,” he says. “The law has changed and what was true in the past, particularly for those who have tried to access treatment two years ago or five years ago, is not true now.”

To educate consumers about new opportunities for treatment, Hazelden has created a “consumer advocacy brochure” that outlines the legislation and what it means for those looking for care. While Hazelden and Moyers agree that parity is certainly something to celebrate, their brochure campaign urges consumers to “stand up and demand” their parity benefits. “Parity is a reality,” Moyers says, “but it’s only going to be effective if the people that need it demand it.”

William Moyers, Hazelden's Vice President of External Affairs As they focus on bringing consumers the information needed to access new parity benefits, Moyers and his organization are not turning an optimistically blind eye to the “soft spots” in the legislation. “The legislation, while historic, is not the endpoint,” Moyers says. “There is some potential to plans dropping coverage. But we are confident that most plans and most employers will embrace the parity law not just because it’s the law, but because it makes good common sense and good business sense.”

And Moyers is committed to showing just how good the business of recovery can be to payers, providers, consumers, and society at large. “I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict of 16 years of almost continuous sobriety, and you don’t have to look any further than people like me to find the tremendous benefit,” he says. “I’m a tax payer; I’m an engaged father of three children; I’m a safe worker in the workplace; I obey the law.

“All of the things that I do, I only do as a result of being in recovery. And I’m only in recovery because I got access to treatment more than once. Just look no further than the Moyers of the world to see the great cost-offset of treatment.”

Moyers cites an early ’90s State of California study, titled CALDATA, to support his claims: From 1991-1993, the state studied the “costs, benefits, and effectiveness of the state's alcohol and drug treatment infrastructure.” After the two-year study, researchers found that for every dollar that was spent on funding addiction treatment, seven dollars in state funds were saved. This savings largely occurred in the criminal justice sector.

Hazelden’s Making Recovery America’s Business campaign emphasizes the savings that addiction treatment can bring to workplaces as well. “It’s far more cost efficient to treat an addicted employee than it is to terminate them or ignore the problem altogether,” Moyers says. “The health plans are not ignorant to this and the employees who are now covered under parity are not ignorant either.”

According to Hazelden’s research, replacing an employee can cost a workplace up to two times the cost of that employee’s salary, while medical claims for addicted employees also cost workplaces up to two times more than those of non-addicted employees. Aside from these direct costs, addicted employees cost workplaces up to 500 million lost workdays per year and are almost four times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and injuries.

Up until this point, though, there has been little that workplaces can do to help their employees get treatment outside of what their insurance plans designate. But even with the expanded opportunities now outlined by the parity legislation, the associated stigma of seeking addiction treatment may still prevent substance abusers from getting the help they need.