An Open Letter to Insurance Providers

Why Are You Throwing Your Money Away and Hurting Your Enrolless In The Process?

Addiction Treatment Makes People Worse and Costs Insurance Providers Millions

Addiction treatment is failing hundreds of thousands of people annually and it’s costing you, the health insurance providers a fortune in the process. We pay premiums to give us coverage for effective healthcare at an affordable rate. We like to think that you care about our well-being and that your goal is to help us, your customers, to become healthier.

With respect to addiction treatment coverage, this is clearly not the case. Based on all the evidence, the addiction treatment covered under health insurance is not only making your customers worse, but also significantly hurting your bottom line.

How We Got Here

The ACA and MHPAEA mandated individual coverage and required insurance providers to provide addiction treatment coverage. This mandatory individual coverage, combined with increased access to addiction treatment, produced a massive influx of revenue into an addiction treatment industry that was already growing at a rapid rate. Large investment firms began investing millions into the addiction treatment industry and buying up small rehabs around the country to create giant treatment conglomerates.

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), by 2015, there were more than 17,000 licensed addiction treatment facilities in the US and more than 1.5 million people were admitted to treatment programs; that figure has been reported as high as 2.0 million, depending on the source and year surveyed.* Addiction treatment quickly ballooned into a $35 billion a year industry and is still growing. In fact, it’s expected to eclipse $40 billion by 2020.*

With this process, addiction treatment became completely homogenized into a one-size-fits-all, disease-based treatment model with patients being shuffled in and out like cattle. Millions more attend 12 Step meetings, outpatient treatment, therapy, and counseling. Yet with all this access to “treatment”, the addiction problem is still getting worse.

The Hidden and Deadly Costs of Addiction

While it’s true that, as insurance providers, you already shell out billions to cover the costs of addiction treatment annually, the actual cost of addiction goes far beyond the cost of treatment itself. Out of the CDC’s top five causes of death, four of them are directly related to lifestyle choices.* Cancers, heart disease, neurological disorders, and respiratory illnesses are all directly caused or exacerbated by heavy substance use, smoking, and overeating, all of which are identified and treated as addictions. Accidental death rounds out the top five causes and substance use plays a role in many of those deaths as well.

We Need To Change the Conversation and Answer Some Tough Questions

  • When will you, as health insurance providers, question why you are spending millions on treatments for addiction that are ineffective at best and deadly at worst?
  • When will you take notice that overdose hospitalizations and deaths are most likely to happen within the first 90 days after leaving a treatment program?
  • When will you put together the correlations between paying for addiction treatment and the subsequent diagnoses, treatments, and hospitalizations for expensive, chronic health issues of heart disease, cancers, respiratory illness, and mental health issues?
  • What is the real return on investment for the billions of tax dollars and insurance dollars being spent on treatment? People are getting sicker and they are dying younger.

Treatment Doesn’t Solve the Addiction Problem – It Creates It

Treatment programs are built on the assumption that addiction is a progressive, incurable disease that hijacks the brain. Treatment tries to change people from the outside in — using medications, various talk therapies, and group-centered therapies and support meetings, all of which yield long-term success rates of well under 20%.*

Treatment organizations teach their patients that they will need ongoing lifetime treatment, even though decades of data and research fail to support that assertion. More than 90% of people stop their addictions on their own, most without ever seeking addiction treatment, and less than 20% get treatment.*

Treatment providers also teach people seeking relief from addiction that they are forever powerless and that relapse is an inevitable part of recovery. We can see from high relapse rates that most people that go into treatment buy into the fictitious, never ending cycle of relapse and recovery, continue to struggle, and either end up back in treatment, in the hospital, or dead. In the meantime, addiction treatment makes billions and insurance providers lose billions while doing a grave disservice to their customers.

Being taught that you’re suffering from an incurable brain disease that renders you forever powerless over substances (and not just your substance of choice, but all substances), is a recipe for a lifetime of struggle. Substance users that go to treatment are literally trained to be hopeless and helpless.

What Are We Left With When Treatment Isn’t Working?

Clearly, the addiction disease model is not working. The entire country has been misled, and people are suffering as a result. The addiction treatment industry has become a multi-billion business precisely because it makes people dependent and sicker.

What if we worked instead to deal with addiction using the methodologies proven by research to produce long- term change: to see addiction and deal with it as a personal lifestyle choice, as a behavior that people choose to do for their own personal reasons? What if people who struggle with substance use could take a course at home, online, or in person, or go to an intensive educational retreat where they would be able to learn a viable solution to their problems?

The truth is, when people who’ve stopped their addictions are surveyed, they report they did so because they changed their preferences.* They decided that using substances at that level no longer suited their wants or needs and they decided to make a change in their level of use for their own personal reasons.

The only way to help people to stop an addiction is to show them the truth about it. Research overwhelmingly shows that addiction is not a lifelong disease and more than 90% of people overcome it.* In order to make a lasting change, people must first know that they can, and only then can they begin to identify the reasons they continue to use at their current level and assess if they can be happier by making a change. In the end, those who change do so because they come to believe they can be personally happier making that change.

If the goal of health insurance is to improve the health of your customers and communities while also making a profit, than it’s important to cover educational and behavioral solutions that have demonstrated success in helping people to make lasting lifestyle changes. By providing access to proven effective behavioral educational solutions, you are proactively helping your customers and communities improve their overall health and wellness, and as an added bonus, will dramatically improve your bottom lines.

Most Sincerely,

Michelle L. Dunbar
Executive Director
The Freedom Model Retreats

*For supporting documentation, see The Freedom Model for Addictions available at

To learn more about The Freedom Model and how your organization and your customers can benefit from this lower cost, behavioral educational solution that has proven to be five times more effective than treatment methods, contact Michelle Dunbar at 518-461-0594 or 888-424-2626.





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