Connections Summer 2014

Let’s talk about pot

The debate of whether or not marijuana should be legalized for either medical or recreational purposes is present among twenty-one states. Colorado and Washington State are the only two that have legalized recreational use, and of the twenty-one states still assessing, New Jersey is one that is considering legalizing it beyond medical use. This topic was recently discussed at the 2014 Public Policy Forum of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex County at Rutgers University on March 25th, 2014.

The purpose of this forum was for policymakers and medical officers to meet and share their expertise regarding the history of marijuana use and consequences, both legislatively and in respect to behavioral health effects, in order to decide whether the drug should be legalized or decriminalized. One of the panelists, who offered his background in drug addiction therapy, was Dr. David L. Buch, chief medical officer and clinical psychiatrist of Carrier Clinic®: “It was a privilege to be part of this distinguished panel. Marijuana is an emotional topic. There are no easy answers: every approach has pros and cons.”

A highly-respected psychiatrist, Dr. Buch has made many contributions to his profession through years of teaching psychiatry, being a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and being a member of numerous psychiatric associations.

Also attending were Ken Wolski, co-founding executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana–New Jersey, Steven G. Liga, forum organizer and executive director and CEO of NCADD, and about 50 students currently studying policymaking and administration.

Dr. Buch’s advocacy for drug addiction treatment and prevention offered a practical attitude to the discussion. His defense on decriminalizing the drug is that “a lot of people would advocate that maybe we should be spending more time, more money on the treatment and prevention side of things.” Although a panel participant completely disagreed with legalizing pot, in part by experiencing past addiction and being imprisoned, Dr. Buch’s empathy works cooperatively with an open mind to the possibilities of marijuana being a successful treatment drug for certain medical conditions. “We do know that incarcerating people has been unfair and doesn’t cure addiction,” was his response to the way marijuana use has been disciplined.

Most of the moderators believe that marijuana should be decriminalized. Some of this debate stems from the possibility and worry of teenagers getting hold of marijuana. “More than 80 percent of teenagers have said they tried it at least once,” showed a nationwide survey, which was shared at the forum. The concern lies in evidence showing that marijuana can damage brains that are still developing. Nonetheless, there was one panelist, Ken Wolski, who sat confidently on the other side of the fence of this debate.

Wolski supports his organization in aiming to benefit those in need of medicinal marijuana. Ultimately, it has been the DEA’s decision to decriminalize the drug. Dr. Buch’s conclusion to the matter, based on history and the forum, is that “we need more objective data to tell what makes sense. Neither policies nor victims’ opinions can move this kind of decision–we need more case studies and substantial information to determine whether or not marijuana should be legalized.”

Building Another 100 Years of Community Advocacy

In the brick and mortar world, the words breaking new ground, speak of optimism and industry, like the first ceremonial plunge of a shovel into earth symbolizes the commencement of an ambitious project. Then there’s “breaking new ground” in the sense of being a trailblazer; an innovator in one’s field. Whichever way you interpret the phrase, Carrier Clinic® has it covered–with a hundred-year history of bringing innovation and compassion to the community, as well as improvements and expansions to our Belle Mead campus that will allow us to better serve the community in the years ahead.

Time and again, Carrier Clinic® has been ahead of the industry curve when it comes to implementing new treatments for our patients, educating our staff, and finding new ways to efficiently operate the campus (like the construction of a 14-acre solar farm on campus in 2009). The expansion continues here in 2014, with the planned construction of a completely new Acute Care Unit made up of two 20-bed wings, an addition and renovation to the Blake Recovery Center™, which specializes in drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation services, and the renovation of our Access Center, which will ensure a more comfortable, professional experience for those seeking admission to our treatment facility.

This renovation is expected to achieve a new style of care by having larger windows installed for patients to experience the beautiful Sourland Mountains and the surrounding countryside from their rooms. Our staff will benefit from these experiential workplace upgrades as well. Carrier intends to preserve our heritage within our rich future by incorporating thousands of bricks from the former admissions building into the walkway of the new one. Along with the bricks, some of the trees will be repurposed, and Carrier’s abundant history will continue being honored with enhanced aesthetics.

Get to know you health insurance

There are many more types of healthcare plans today than there were a generation ago, and changes have been made to pre-existing plans with the passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 (ACA). This law was established to make healthcare coverage more affordable for all classes of citizens. It is meant to expand coverage, guarantee more choice, and lower costs to provide a better quality of care for Americans (

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, requires private health insurance plans to provide equal amounts of mental health benefits as provided for medical/surgical benefits. As Kerry Stevenson, Director of Managed Care at Carrier Clinic®, explains, “Not all plans are subject to parity like certain small employers’ and selfinsured plans, but if a plan is subject to parity, it must offer mental health and substance abuse benefits with the same limitations as they would for a physical condition.”

The ACA also expanded parity to be included in plans available through the exchanges (Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity). Many plans have the equal amount of benefits to treat mental health and substance abuse issues, but it is up to the individual policyholder to find out for sure.

With the long list of complicated health insurance options, not only should it be a goal for you to obtain maximum level of affordable coverage for yourself and your family, but also to sign up for a plan that is fully explained in writing. Talking to an insurance provider is easier than ever with the advancements of online applications and the Health Insurance Marketplace, developed by the government to facilitate health plan purchases. With more customers shopping for plans online, the wait time to speak to an insurance company customer service representative is generally less than it was in the past.

If you’re insured through your employer, Ms. Stevenson suggests calling the Human Resources department or your benefits administrator to gather the necessary information. As the Managed Care Director points out, it helps to keep these questions in mind when discussing a coverage plan: “People might think they can use their benefits at once in this 30-day-period stated on their policy,” Stevenson cautions. “In reality, the benefit may be subject to medical necessity review by the insurance company, so that care can be given at the right place at the right time, which may not be 30 days consecutively.”

Authorization of certain services is based on signs and symptoms of illness, otherwise known as “medical necessity,” which should also be discussed with your doctor and health insurance carrier. It is important for you to know when your benefits run out, in order to avoid accruing out-of-control, out-of-pocket expenses.

Kerry Stevenson’s best advice is for the insured to take control of their health insurance plan and fully understand their coverage. Make the call to your insurance company before a known procedure or a hospitalization– the phone number is on your insurance card. “Take notes, and ask questions.”

Understanding your insurance will save you time and help you make informed decisions. It will allow you to focus on the condition of your health, rather than worry about any unwanted surprises with your health insurance coverage down the road.

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