Hospitals not screening for drugs because of insurance law

Emergency rooms in Nevada hospitals often don't screen patients for alcohol or drugs because of an escape clause in Nevada's insurance law, the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee was told Wednesday.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said existing law allows insurance companies to deny payment of a claim if the injured person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

"They don't test because they're afraid insurers aren't going to pay the bill," she said.

Leslie urged the committee to change the law so that drugs or alcohol in the system can't be used by insurers to escape paying a claim. She said the purpose of AB63 is to lift that fear from hospitals and other medical professionals so people with substance abuse problems can be identified and treated.

"We need to put aside the stigma we still have in this country of not treating alcohol and drug addiction as a disease," she said. "These are treatable problems."

But she said they can't be treated if they aren't identified as problems.

Dr. Timothy Kaufmann of Reno said at one time every patient at the Washoe Medical Trauma Center was screened.

"However, there were several hundred-thousand-dollar bills that went unpaid because of the insurance company being able to deny the claim," he said. "So now they don't screen anyone."

Kevin Quint, executive director of Join Together of Northern Nevada, said the law "creates a major barrier and this will remove that barrier."

The legislation also drew support from Laurel Stadler of Mothers Against Drunk Driving who said in some cases the existing law has been used to protect drunk drivers.

"Emergency rooms have become the safe haven for drunk drivers," she said. "No screening is done and the drunk driver walks at that point."

She too said the change would help get some people into treatment so they don't commit more violations, which could save lives.

The committee will hold a workshop on the legislation in the future.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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