Addicts seek more insurance coverage for drug treatment

A television actress and a congressman who say they couldn't have overcome alcoholism without professional treatment urged lawmakers to improve insurance coverage for people with drug and alcohol addictions.

"Treatment works. Look at me," Sharon Gless, star of the TV drama Cagney and Lacey, said at a Capitol news conference Thursday.

Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn, introduced legislation that would guarantee equal insurance coverage for treatment of alcohol and drug abuse and other medical services.

Many plans have lower annual and lifetime spending limits for such treatment.

"If I hadn't had treatment, I wouldn't be alive today because I was abusing alcohol in such proportions. I was a binge drinker," Ramstad said.

The lawmakers estimated the coverage would raise insurance premiums no more than .5 percent. employers would not be required to provide coverage for alcohol and drug abuse if they don't already. Still, business groups fight such mandates on insurance coverage.

"Congress has gotten wind that these things are popular...The constituents like it, and there is almost no awareness among the voters that these kind of mandates raise the cost of health insurance," said Merrill Matthews Jr., vice president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a pro-business research group.

Treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is open to fraud because it is difficult for insurers to tell when someone is well, he said.

But supporters say the legislation would pay for itself by saving businesses the cost of treating addiction-related illnesses such as liver and heart disease.

Ramstad, who was elected to Congress in 1990, spent 28 days in a Minnesota treatment center in 1981. His insurance company paid for the treatment, he said.

Gless paid for her own treatment 10 years ago, she said. "As much as I wanted and needed to get better, I simply could not do it without the professional help of others", she said.

More than 10 percent of Americans suffer from alcohol or drug addiction.

Back to start of Sharon Gless section