It sounds historic, and taken at face value, it would be.
Fulfilling a promise from his state-of-the-state address in January, Gov. Chris Christie signed addiction legislation into law last week, the cornerstone of which mandates insurance companies provide six-months of coverage for substance abuse.
"Today, we are taking action to save lives," Christie said at the signing.
But an analysis of the legislative impact of the law by NJ Advance Media shows that the bureaucratic reality of the insurance market means that Christie's legislation faces severe handicaps state government has no authority to overcome.
For starters, of the more than 10,000 who have sought treatment for substance abuse in New Jersey through the first six weeks of 2017, only about 16 percent have had private insurance upon admission.
Most (about 53 percent) have Medicaid, which does not offer inpatient treatment for substance abuse -- something Christie has sought to change, but currently does not have the capacity to do so. More than a quarter of admitted clients have no insurance at all.
Additionally, New Jersey only wields authority over about 30 percent of the total insurance market, meaning not all of that 16 percent would be covered under the legislation.
"I think we need to temper our expectations a bit," said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who helped author the legislation. "But 30 percent is better than nothing."
Adding to the uncertainty is the future of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare). Republicans under President Donald Trump have vowed to dismantle the law, through which more than half of substance abuse clients received insurance coverage last year.
The impact this legislation has on those it does help could be immeasurable. As the opioid crisis has ballooned in New Jersey during the last decade, families have constantly been frustrated by insurance issues. It was not uncommon in New Jersey for someone to be kicked out of inpatient treatment only a few days into a planned 28-day stay of inpatient treatment because insurance coverage lapsed.
The legislation Christie signed also limits opioid prescriptions by doctors to a 5-days initially. An analysis of that element of the legislation is forthcoming by NJ Advance Media.
Stephen Stirling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sstirling. Find him on Facebook.
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