2 major ways EDs can fail patients with addiction: KHN

To receive proper treatment, patients experiencing drug addiction must overcome two barriers in the U.S. healthcare system: a paucity of treatment resources and high medical costs, reports Kaiser Health News. 

The two issues can be especially apparent in the emergency room setting, where patients seeking immediate help may find the facility isn't equipped to treat substance use, or, if it is, the treatment is very costly.  

Across the U.S., emergency departments often lack the personnel to launch addiction treatment initiatives, with referral options often limited by location.  

In Texas, hundreds of physicians can prescribe medications to help treat opioid use disorder, but many patients are uninsured and can't afford the treatment, said Alister Martin, MD, an emergency medicine physician affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.  

The federal government mandates nonprofit hospitals have financial assistance policies, often dubbed "charity care."  

But "nonprofits are actually doing less charity care than for-profits," said Ge Bai, PhD, associate professor at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, who recently published a study about charity care provided by different hospitals.

Hospitals can determine who qualifies for financial assistance programs and often don't tell patients if they're eligible, despite federal requirements that they "widely publicize" financial aid policies. In 2019, 45 percent of U.S. nonprofit hospital organizations routinely sent medical bills to patients whose incomes were low enough to qualify for charity care, according to a KHN investigation.

Amid the pandemic, deaths from drug overdoses in 2020 hit a record 93,000, a nearly 30 percent jump from the prior year.  

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