A coalition of attorneys general that included Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Monday took the battle against the opioid epidemic to insurance companies with a letter asking the industry to re-examine the way it may support over-prescription of the potentially deadly and addictive drugs.
In a three-page letter calling the opioid epidemic the “preeminent public health crisis of our time,” Schmidt and attorneys general from 37 states and territories encouraged insurance industry trade groups and providers to review their coverage and payment policies for pain treatments.
“Insurance companies can play an important role in reducing opioid prescriptions and making it easier for patients to access other forms of pain management treatment,” the letter said. “All else being equal, providers will often favor those treatment options that are most likely to be compensated, either by the government, an insurance provider, or a patient paying out-of-pocket.”
In a recent symposium about opioid addiction hosted by the Kansas Health Institute, Kenneth Mishler, corporate pharmacist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, talked about efforts that company is making to address the issues nationwide.
“The Blues, in general, across country recognize their responsibility to be part of the solution,” he said. “Early in 2016, the Blues association in Chicago formed a workgroup to address the opioid crisis.”
The group assembled strategies and goals, Mishler said, and recently rolled them out publicly at www.bcbs.com.
“The vision of this group, and I was a part of that group, was that in five years we would see the number of opioids prescribed dramatically reduced,” he said. “More importantly, the number of individuals receiving evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorders will be dramatically increased.”
BCBS of Kansas recently partnered with Walgreens to fund 10 additional disposal units across the state where people can drop off unused drugs, Mishler said. It also is funding research on opioid issues at Harvard University and tapping into Blues claims data from across the state to learn about what is going on in the payer market.
When asked about paying for alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and massage, that can be used as options for pain management, Mishler said the Blues system is looking at studying the idea and acknowledged such treatments can be effective.
Alternative non-opioid methods of treatment were mentioned by the attorneys general as potentially being more effective and, over the long run, more cost-efficient.
“The status quo, in which there may be financial incentives to prescribe opioids for pain which they are ill-suited to treat, is unacceptable,” the letter said. “We ask that you quickly initiate additional efforts so that you can play an important role in stopping further deaths.”