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In Trying Times, NAATP Sees Opportunity for New Administration

January 28, 2021

Amid what it describes as “alarming statistics” around substance use disorders that have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers sees an opportunity for the Biden administration “to improve substance use disorder treatment delivery, and healthcare in general, for millions of Americans.”

The association also has several ideas for how to go about making that happen, and has expressed optimism that positive momentum can be generated.

In a letter from NAATP CEO Marvin Ventrell to President Joe Biden this week, NAATP set forth a wide-ranging series of recommendations it would like to see the new administration implement. NAATP director of public policy Mark Dunn notes that while the association is a non-partisan organization “with friends who support substance use disorder issues on both sides of the aisle,” NAATP believes that having a president with Biden’s track record on SUD issues whose party also holds a majority in both branches of Congress can facilitate legislative movement around behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment more efficiently.

“President Biden, regardless of party, has been a long-time advocate for substance use disorder issues and has a good understanding of what the problems are, and has long been focused on solutions,” Dunn tells BHE. “So, the fact he is the president with that background and has a majority in House and Senate will probably make it easier to get some things accomplished simply because it will be easier for him to get his agenda through, and he will likely include a lot of these issues on his agenda.”

Among those issues that NAATP has zeroed in on in Ventrell’s letter to the president:

  • Healthcare equity, including the restoration of Section 1557 non-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act
  • Needs of individuals with SUD and their caregivers with regards to COVID, including access to vaccines, healthcare provider assistance funds and PPE
  • Coverage for individuals in need of mental health/addiction treatment
  • Improved access to SUD treatment services and health outcomes that includes stronger Parity Act compliance requirements
  • Promoting delivery system and payment reforms
  • Chronic disease prevention, early intervention and wellness initiatives

NAATP also voiced support for the administration’s decision to establish a White House Office of Health Equity with an explicit focus on the ability of minority populations to access high-quality SUD services, medications and support. It also called on the administration to further incentivize states to expand their Medicaid populations, rescind Medicaid work requirements and block grant guidance and withdraw approvals of state waivers that restrict coverage, eliminate the Medicaid IMD exclusion, and remove other barriers to enrollment.

Re-elevate the ONDCP director position

Ventrell concluded his letter by noting that implementing the recommendations presented by NAATP would require centralized coordination. To that end, his final recommendation was to once again make the role of Office of National Drug Control Policy director a cabinet-level position, a status it held from 1993 until 2009, when it was downgraded by the Obama administration. 

“ONDCP originally was created to coordinate policy across agencies,” Dunn says. “All agencies had to submit their rules and policymaking through ONDCP if it had anything to do with mental health or SUDs. They had kind of given up that authority over the years for a number of reasons. We would be hopeful this would restore some of the authority they had previously and better coordinate federal policy.”

Dunn says that although Biden historically has supported the role of ONDCP director as a cabinet-level position, making such a move could be on the back burner for now while the administration devotes its attention and resources to the COVID pandemic. 

“But," Dunn adds, "we would encourage it whenever they feel they can do it.”

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