As the opioid epidemic burns a path of devastation across the nation, California is leading the way in revamping treatment for low-income residents, reports Kaiser Health News. Before this year, the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, covered only limited and episodic care. Now, it pays for a much broader range of treatment, including expanded access to medications, inpatient beds, individual therapy and case managers. The five-year pilot project, which gives the state flexibility in its use of federal money, was approved in 2015 by the agency that oversees Medicaid. Virginia, Massachusetts and Maryland also have federal permission to expand drug treatment for Medicaid members. Other states, including West Virginia and Michigan, are seeking it.
California’s drug rehab overhaul makes it easier for Medi-Cal members to get care and improves their chances of long-term recovery, state health officials said. It also aims to reduce costs by decreasing use of emergency rooms and hospitals and keeping drug-addicted enrollees out of jail and out of the child welfare system. “It is such a dramatic change to our substance abuse field,” said Marlies Perez of the state Department of Health Care Services. “We turned off one system one day and turned on a whole new system the next.” Health officials and service providers say that with the federal waiver they are finally able to address addiction as a chronic disease. Instead of simply getting short-term outpatient care, Medi-Cal beneficiaries can receive ongoing treatment from detoxification through recovery, tailored to their specific needs. “The old traditional way was a rather canned approach to recovery,” said Bruce Copley, director of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services in Santa Clara County.