Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Bradley Hieb, program director of the dual diagnosis program at New Roads Behavioral Health, and staff member Nick Bolton sit in on what they refer to as a “hot seat” group meeting in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, June 6, 2017.

Utah needs a waiver from a rule that’s creating a waitlist for those looking for addiction or mental illness treatment. People seeking help for opioid abuse, but who are unable to pay for treatment on their own or rely on private insurance, currently face a waiting list of up to six months to be admitted to a licensed facility.

This is not acceptable given the number of people caught in a web of addiction and the real prospect of death before treatment. Efforts by state officials to acquire a waiver to an obscure federal rule that limits the types of facilities open to Medicaid patients will hopefully soon open the door for a substantial number of people to receive help.

Utah, along with other states, has applied to have the rule waived that prevents Medicaid patients from getting treatment in facilities with more than 16 beds. The rule was put in place to deter the practice of warehousing patients with mental illness and addiction problems in large facilities, a sensible policy but one that has resulted in barring the door to an untold number of people seeking help in kicking their addictions. Utah’s application is modeled after one submitted by California and approved by the Obama administration. The Trump administration, to its credit, has indicated it favors granting waiver applications that have now been submitted by more than a dozen states.

The process of approval, however, is taking too long. The Utah Legislature paved the way for the application back in the spring of 2016. It’s impossible to know how many people have been turned away from treatment facilities since then, but it is likely a large number, and many may have since succumbed to their addictions. The agency that handles Medicaid policy is said to have a relatively small staff assigned to dealing with the waiver process. Whatever can be done on the executive level or by Congressional intervention to speed up the process would be warranted.

3 comments on this story

Utah suffers a high rate of opioid abuse, and while various public and private efforts are underway to attack the problem, a key component of a solution is to get people into treatment as fast as possible. The lack of accessibility has contributed greatly to the problem of homelessness and related drug crime. Opening up more treatment options is fundamental to the success of Salt Lake County’s campaign to address the homeless problem.

We have long taken a position in favor of reform of entitlement programs, an effort often talked about but rarely acted upon and now bollixed up in the political back and forth on health care reform. In the meantime, it’s important that state and federal agencies cooperate to adjust existing rules to provide an avenue of hope for those seeking to escape the downward spiral of substance abuse.