37 state AGs call on insurance industry to prioritize non-opioid pain meds: 3 things to know

Attorneys general from 37 states are urging insurers to alter their coverage policies to prioritize non-opioid pain medications over opioids for the treatment of chronic pain not related to cancer.

Here are three things to know.

1. The leaders made their request Monday through a letter sent Monday to America's Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry's primary trade group. The letter comes a day after ProPublica and The New York Times published an investigative report, which highlighted insurer practices that restrict the use of non-addictive painkillers.

"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," wrote the attorneys general in the letter. "The status quo, in which there may be financial incentives to prescribe opioids for pain which they are ill-suited to treat, is unacceptable. We ask that you quickly initiate additional efforts so that you can play an important role in stopping further deaths."

2. In a statement to ProPublica, Cathryn Donaldson, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said the organization shares the commitment of the attorneys general in bringing about an end to the nation's opioid epidemic.

"Recent research shows that non-opioid medications, even over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen, can provide just as much relief as opioids," said Ms. Donaldson. "Patients and their care providers should talk openly and honestly about pain and how to manage it — from lifestyle changes and exercise to over-the-counter options and clearly understanding the dangers of opioids."

3. The letter is a part of ongoing efforts by the attorneys general to investigate the causes of the opioid epidemic and the entities most responsible for its onset, according to ProPublica. The officials are also investigating the potential role of drugmakers and drug wholesalers in facilitating the public health crisis.

"Everyone — including and especially insurance companies — have an obligation to address the opioid epidemic," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is among the attorneys general who signed the letter. "Insurers must take a hard look at the systemic problems in our healthcare system that result in the over-prescription of opioids and fuel the cycle of addiction."

More articles on opioids: 
Netflix's Heroin(e) documentary shines light on women fighting West Virginia's opioid epidemic 
IHI to develop intervention tool for safer opioid prescribing 
10% of patients prescribed 76% of opioids, study finds

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