A coalition of attorney generals from throughout the country, including 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 they 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 AGs 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 AG’s 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 put on by Kansas Health Institute about opioid addiction, Kenneth Mishler, corporate pharmacist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, talked about efforts his company is making to address the issues on a national basis.
“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 just recently rolled those out publicly. They can be found online 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 opioid prescribed dramatically reduced,” he said. “More importantly, the number of individuals receiving evidence-based for substance abuse orders will be dramatically increased.”
BCBS of Kansas recently partnered with Walgreens to fund 10 additional disposal units throughout the state where individuals can drop off unused drugs, Mishler said. They also are funding research on opioid issues at Harvard University and tapping into the Blues claims data from across the state to learn about what’s going on in the payer market.
When asked about paying for alternative treatments, like acupuncture and massage, which can be used as options for pain management, Mishler said the Blues system is looking to study the idea and acknowledged such treatments can be effective.
Alternative non-opioid methods of treatment were mentioned by the AGs as offering the potential to be 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.”