Institute for Behavioral Health receives $2.9m NIH grant to study disparities in alcohol treatment

Maureen Stewart to lead 5-year project examining access to alcohol use treatment outcomes in Medicaid managed care plans

October 07, 2021

Senior Scientist Maureen Stewart, PhD’09

Senior Scientist Maureen Stewart, PhD’09, will lead a team of colleagues from the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Research (SIHPR) in a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study will examine access and quality of alcohol use disorder treatment for people enrolled in Medicaid managed care plans, with a specific focus on disparities by race and ethnicity, gender, and geography.

“Alcohol use disorder is a serious problem. More than 95,000 Americans die annually from alcohol use,” says Stewart. “Less than 10 percent of people with alcohol use disorder access treatment, and although rates of alcohol disorders are high among women and racial and ethnic minority populations, these groups are the least likely to access treatment and have high rates of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality.”

Over 80 million people receive health care through Medicaid, including a disproportionate share of racial/ethnic minorities, women, and people living in rural areas. Nearly 70 percent of people enrolled in Medicaid are in a managed care plan, which have control over policies that could impact patient access and quality of treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Stewart and her team are building on a national survey of Medicaid managed care plans they are conducting to address substance use disorder treatment and outcomes for Medicaid enrollees with opioid use disorder, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They hope this new research will produce valuable and actionable findings for Medicaid plan administrators, state Medicaid directors and federal policymakers as they seek to improve access to alcohol treatment in the U.S.

Joining Stewart on this project are Senior Scientist Rachel Sayko Adams, PhD’13, Institute for Behavioral Health Director Constance Horgan, Associate Professor Grant Ritter, and Associate Dean for Research Cindy Parks Thomas, PhD’00. The team will collaborate with colleagues from Cambridge Health Alliance, Tufts University, and the University of South Carolina.

“Unhealthy alcohol use has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among women, potentially exacerbating increasing rates of alcohol-related harms among women,” says Adams. “This study has potential to illuminate Medicaid policies that can be scaled-up and adapted to improve treatment for people that face barriers to receiving care, including racial/ethnic minorities, women and people from rural communities.”

“Improving access to quality alcohol use disorder treatment is essential to improving health and saving lives,” says Horgan, who is also co-director of the SIHPR. "I am delighted that NIAAA will support Maureen and her team to conduct this crucial research to reveal how policies can be refined to reduce alcohol-related morbidity and mortality."