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More Arizona addicts to receive help under health law

PHOENIX -- More than 133,000 Arizonans with drug and alcohol addictions will become newly eligible for insurance next year under the federal health care overhaul, an increase in demand that will put added pressure on substance abuse treatment providers.

But Arizona's behavioral health system overseen by the state can be expanded easily, putting it in better shape than many other states, a public health expert and AHCCCS say. Arizona is also among only a few states that cover childless adults under its Medicaid program, although budget cuts have cut the ranks by more than half in the past year.

"The system that's in place in Arizona, the infrastructure is strong and could easily be ramped up to cover this demand," said Dr. Daniel Derksen, a University of Arizona public health policy and management professor who helped design New Mexico's health insurance exchanges in 2011.

Federal statistics show 11 percent of the population needs such treatment, or 531,000 people, but just 36,000 currently receive treatment.

An Associated Press analysis shows the newly insured will include about 63,0 who gain Medicaid coverage if the Legislature approves Gov. Jan Brewer's planned expansion. More than 50,000 more are expected to gain private insurance coverage through a federally-run health exchange.

Many of the newly Medicaid-eligible lost coverage because of an enrollment freeze prompted by a state budget crunch. Monica Coury, spokeswoman for the state's Medicaid plan, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), says those people were being treated before and so the state's facilities are in better shape to handle the increased load than states that didn't provide coverage for that population. The state has cut about 140,000 people from its Medicaid rolls under the freeze.

"For Arizona, it's a population that is already known to us, so we were treating those people already," Coury said.

The state oversees regional and tribal behavioral health authorities that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment programs across the state. Medicaid is the largest provider of substance abuse treatment, with supplemental funding from other federal and state sources.

The AP analysis compared federal data on the addiction rates in the 50 states, the capacity of treatment programs and the provisions of the new health law.

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