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They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab, My Insurance said, “No, no, no”

More than 20 years after Managed Care aggressively changed the world of health insurance, for better or worse, many people still believe that they are covered for “rehab” of the sort that they see Dr. Drew providing on cable TV.  I still have fond memories of the days when it was a fairly simple matter, when meeting with an alcoholic or addict whose personal and family life was in disarray, to get him or her a bed at places like Spofford Hall or Edgehill Newport – these were perhaps the premier rehab facilities in New England, and neither of them survived the advent of managed care.  I must admit a 28-day (inpatient) rehab was “overkill” for some of these cases, but at the time, that was the default clinical approach, and when an addiction counselor spoke of “treatment,” it usually referred to that type of program.

For years now, with the exception of a couple of nationwide insurance plans (which seem to cover facilities largely in Florida) as well as specially configured union plans for individuals such as pilots and pro athletes, health insurance covers very little in the way of inpatient treatment – generally limited to medically necessary detox (only when necessary to mitigate withdrawal symptoms).  Sometimes it is possible to get insurance to cover a subsequent couple of weeks in a “partial hospital” or “intensive outpatient” program (consisting typically of 3 to 5 clinic visits per week, each lasting from about 2 hours to about 6 hours), and in a few places one can also arrange to reside on site while attending a partial hospital program – these approaches are much less costly than rehabs, and provide a diluted version of some of the same benefits.

A more traditional rehab will cost over $30,000 for a month’s stay; do not expect your Blue Cross, Tufts, Harvard Pilgrim, etc. policy to cover it.  There are programs that cost somewhat less (e.g., with reduced lengths of stay or staffs consisting mainly of counselors with less in the way of medical care).  And if a person needs a sobriety-oriented residence as a next stage of recovery, there is also a 2-tiered world – very comfortable accommodations for those who can afford to spend well over $1000 a week, or relatively rough [but sometimes life-saving] halfway house environments (with long waiting lists) for those without wealth.  (More to come at a later date.)

Jeff Fortgang, PhD, LADC-I

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