The Affordable Care Act (ACA) sets the stage for a new health-oriented policy framework to address substance use and mental health disorders. By dramatically expanding and funding healthcare coverage to millions of currently uninsured people, the ACA represents a remarkable opportunity for criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates to advance efforts for policies promoting safe and healthy communities, without excessive reliance on the criminal justice solutions that have become so prevalent under the War on Drugs.
This paper is intended as a starting framework for criminal justice and drug policy advocates to navigate the ACA, and to take advantage of the conceptual and practical opportunities it offers for shifting the conversation and the landscape.
Part One of this paper describes some of the major provisions of the ACA relevant to our work: the health insurance requirement; the places many people will buy insurance, called health exchanges; Medicaid expansion; insurance coverage requirements for substance use and mental health disorders; and opportunities for improved models of coordinated care.
Part Two of this paper outlines a series of practical recommendations, including program and policy examples and suggested action steps, across three broad categories: ensuring access to healthcare, leveraging the ACA to reduce incarceration, and moving from a criminilization-based drug policy approach to one rooted in health.