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Heather Cobb

Sr. Director, Creative & Strategy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Primary Care Urged to Screen Adults for Alcohol Misuse – Again

May 30, 2013 | Uncategorized | Comments
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Primary Care Urged to Screen Adults for Alcohol Misuse – Again

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is reiterating its 2004 recommendation that primary care clinicians screen adults for alcohol misuse and provide individuals engaged in hazardous drinking with brief behavioral counseling interventions to reduce alcohol use.

Based on a review of 23 clinical trials conducted since 1985, the task force determined there’s sufficient evidence showing that screening accurately detects alcohol misuse and that counseling reduces heavy drinking in adults.

USPSTF’s action means that insurance plans and Medicare will continue to be required to cover alcohol misuse screening with no cost-sharing for patients. Since September 2010, the Affordable Care Act has required non-grandfathered insurance plans to cover all preventive services that receive an A or B grade from USPSTF. Beginning in 2013, the ACA also provides a one percentage point increase in Medicaid federal matching payments for USPSTF-recommended preventive services, when the state Medicaid program offers those services with no patient cost-sharing.

The USPSTF review found that overall, counseling interventions led to a 12% increase in the proportion of people who reported no heavy drinking episodes one year later, and an average reduction in weekly drinks from 23 to 19. USPSTF noted that brief counseling episodes are more likely to help people with low to moderately risky behavior. Individuals who are dependent on or abuse alcohol may need more specialty treatment.

In its recommendation, USPSTF stated that there is insufficient available data for it to weigh the possible benefits and harms of screening younger teenagers for alcohol misuse in primary care.