My Turn: The high cost of COVID-19 to substance abuse treatment and recovery providers

For the Monitor
Published: 8/15/2020 6:00:25 AM

New Futures recently released a critical report analyzing the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New Hampshire’s substance use disorder treatment and recovery providers.

The report, which surveyed substance use treatment and recovery organizations from across the state, revealed significant financial losses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings from this report highlight a troubling erosion of treatment capacity and the need for decisive action to support these essential providers.

The financial impact report shows that, as a result of COVID-19, the majority of providers are experiencing significant financial hardship. Eighty-three percent of small and large group treatment providers that responded to the survey experienced an overall decrease in insurance revenue between January and April 2020, primarily due to curtailed and canceled services.

Small and large group treatment providers reported losses averaging $21,452 during that time, with average monthly losses of $7,150. About 48% of providers reported canceling income-generating events, including fundraisers, with organizations averaging $40,863 in lost revenue.

On top of these losses, providers have also incurred unanticipated expenses due to COVID-19. About 80% of responding organizations reported investing in new technology to allow for telehealth visits at an average cost of $6,324; and 39.1% of responding organizations reported spending on personal protection equipment (PPE), at an average cost of $3,155.

In the survey, many providers shared their concerns over workforce challenges that have intensified since March. Respondents mentioned less capacity due to having to lay off or furlough staff because of budget shortfalls. One respondent also wrote that their costs are increasing from paying overtime for some staff because others cannot work due their high risk of COVID-19 complications.

Without additional investments, New Futures projects that these providers could lose more than $6 million in insurance-billed revenue by October. This could have a severe impact on our state, leading to diminished capacity and longer wait lists for those in need, and undermining the treatment network we have worked so hard to develop.

Building treatment capacity is not an easy process. For the past five years, state leaders and advocates have fought to expand and support frontline providers to meet the unprecedented demand for addiction treatment. This rapid expansion of provider capacity is largely credited for recent success in turning the tide of overdose deaths. However, the results of this recent survey call into question the long-term future and solvency of New Hampshire’s network of addiction treatment providers.

Gov. Chris Sununu and members of the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery recently announced an additional $16 million in funding for the New Hampshire Health Provider Relief Program, which uses federal CARES Act funding to support health care providers. A portion of these funds may be awarded to select substance use disorder programs. However, the findings from this report suggest more expansive and targeted support will be needed to make these behavioral health providers whole and sustain them into the future.

Failure to support these providers may result in New Hampshire losing the ground we have gained against the scourge of addiction. This is an unacceptable and avoidable outcome.

To protect the health of our state, we must invest in our treatment and recovery providers now and sustain them into the future.

To view the full report, please visit: https://new-futures.org/report/cost-covid-19-substance-use-treatment-and-recovery-providers.

(Michele Merritt is the president and CEO of New Futures, New Hampshire’s leading health policy and advocacy organization.)




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