16:15 PM

Navigating High-Quality Addiction Treatment Promises to Become Easier



NJ Human Services to work with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to help consumers find trusted and high-quality addiction treatment options.

Christine Barton Photo

By Chris Barton, MSW, LCSW, Director, Integrated Systems of Care & Network Innovation

If you want to locate a good Italian restaurant in Newark or a cozy B&B in Cape May, it’s easy to find a slew of quality information and online recommendations to help you choose wisely. But when it comes to matters of life and death – like finding an addiction treatment provider – the search for quality care can be daunting.

The challenge is not due to an absence of valuable resources. New Jersey government has created indispensable tools that help those seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder find help. From a 24-hour toll-free number that connects individuals needing counseling to live, trained addiction experts (1-844-ReachNJ) to a searchable database for addiction services, New Jerseyans have access to community-based prevention, early intervention, treatment, education and recovery services. All too often, however, many New Jerseyans fall into the trap of glossy ads and fancy websites for spa-like treatment centers in far-off, sunny destinations offering costly (and usually out-of-network) programs that make little impact on recovery.

Tragically, those lured by the marketing power behind these facilities often find that the treatment services actually provided fall far short of what is appropriate or effective. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has partnered with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in America, to bring its ATLAS® tool to New Jersey. ATLAS (Addiction Treatment Locator, Assessment, and Standards platform) includes a website, TreatmentATLAS.org, that makes it easy to find and compare addiction treatment providers based on the quality of care that they provide.

ATLAS is available in six states already – Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia – and aims to expand nationwide in the coming years. With help from $300,000 in funding from Horizon BCBSNJ and support from the NJ Department of Human Services, ATLAS will launch in New Jersey in April 2022.

“When someone decides to research addiction treatment for themselves or their loved ones, being empowered with the tools to make informed decisions can mean the difference between researching treatment and seeking it,” Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “We look forward to working with Shatterproof and Horizon to bring ATLAS to New Jersey. We know this will be a crucial tool in our collective fight against addiction.”

Adopting proven practices as the standard

For addiction treatment providers, quality isn’t in the eye of the beholder. It can actually be measured objectively.

“The difficulty with searching for addiction treatment is that many facilities don’t use evidence-based best practices,” said Caroline Davidson, Assistant Director of State Engagement, National Treatment Quality Initiatives at Shatterproof. “With ATLAS, people can find the programs that do.”

Evidence-based treatments for addiction, which include patient-specific treatment plans that may encompass a variety of behavioral therapies and FDA-approved medications, have been proven to improve health outcomes, reduce overdoses and save costs.

But without these treatments, “it’s not uncommon to hear of people going to an out-of-state treatment program, spending $50,000 and then relapsing when they come home,” said Davidson. “And that’s often because the facility wasn’t using best practices in treating addiction, and instead offered glossy images of mountains or beaches.”

When prospective patients visit the ATLAS website on their phone or computer, they can filter their searches by evidence-based quality measures, including the availability of medications for addiction treatment, and the use of standardized assessments to monitor progress, to name a few. What’s more, they can also refine their search by additional criteria that may be important to them, such as location, treatment setting and the types of insurance that are accepted.

“The goal is for people to find the care that’s best suited for them,” said Davidson.

For people who may not know what type of addiction care is best for themselves or a loved one, ATLAS offers the Addiction Treatment Needs Assessment, currently available nationwide. After answering a set of 13 expert-developed, anonymous questions, individuals are given user-friendly guidance on the type of treatment to look for, like an inpatient facility vs. outpatient care (i.e., staying overnight for care vs. returning home), as well as additional services they may want to seek, such as on-site mental health care or transportation assistance.

Many are struggling with addiction in New Jersey, just like the rest of the nation, and the pandemic has only increased the number of people with these conditions. ATLAS will offer transparent information on the quality of treatment providers in the state, so patients can find the appropriate options to get care, said Davidson.

Making a larger impact

Those seeking treatment aren’t the only ones to benefit from the data that’s available through the ATLAS platform.

Health care providers can use password-protected portals to benchmark their practices against industry standards and improve their own quality. Policymakers can use state-level data to set priorities around capacity and funding. And insurance companies can strengthen their networks by selecting the most effective programs for their members, while pursuing innovations like value-based care, which compensates treatment providers for quality over quantity.

For Horizon BCBNJ, the ATLAS platform clearly aligns with its priorities around providing better, more comprehensive options to access treatment for addiction.

“We recognize the importance of evidence-based treatments in making a real impact on substance use disorders here in New Jersey,” said Suzanne Kunis, Vice President of Behavioral Health at Horizon BCBSNJ. “Now that we will have more data around the quality of the treatment programs out there, we can help our members make more informed decisions about where to get the treatment they need.”

Tailoring what’s right for New Jersey

This isn’t the first time Horizon BCBSNJ and Shatterproof have worked together. In 2017, Horizon BCBSNJ joined 15 other health insurers nationwide to adopt the eight Shatterproof National Principles of Care. These evidence-based principles, derived from decades of research on the practices that improve outcomes for individuals with substance use disorder, guided the development of ATLAS.

Now, over the next year, Shatterproof will take what it’s learned in developing the platform for the initial six states and combine that with regional meetings, focus groups, data collection and analysis from treatment providers and state agencies to add New Jersey to ATLAS. The $300,000 in funding from Horizon BCBSNJ, as part of its 2017 federal tax refund, will support these efforts.

“We’ve learned that a key part of making this project successful is getting input and buy-in from all stakeholders involved,” said Davidson. “In that way, we can make ATLAS as useful as possible for New Jerseyans, and have a real impact when we launch the platform here in the state, so we can ultimately save more lives.”