7 ways insurers are countering the opioid epidemic

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Providers and some patient advocates have argued payers contribute to the opioid epidemic through benefit limits on nonopioid rehabilitative treatments that may incentivize physicians to overprescribe opioids, according to a report by the Center on Health Insurance Reforms, based at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. However, some payers are instituting policies aimed at limiting opioid overprescription.

Here are seven initiatives insurers announced or launched in an effort to curb opioid misuse since January.

1. In late August, Indianapolis-based Anthem and its affiliated health plans achieved a companywide target of reducing filled opioid prescriptions by 30 percent two years before a 2019 deadline. The payer dropped preauthorization for medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in January.

2. OptumRx, the pharmacy care services subsidiary of Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group, said its Opioid Risk Management program has reduced opioid consumption and prescribing since its launch July 1, according to initial results released Aug. 22.

3. San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California reported a 32 percent decrease in opioid consumption among noncancer members during the first two years of its narcotic safety initiative.  

4. Regional healthcare leaders and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro gathered at an opioid forum hosted by Independence Blue Cross Foundation in May to discuss strategies to curb the rising rates of opioid overdose deaths in southeastern Pennsylvania.  

5. In April, Bloomfield, Conn.-based Cigna said opioid prescriptions for its members decreased about 12 percent in the past year. As a result, the insurer is roughly halfway to reaching its goal of curbing opioid prescriptions by 25 percent by 2019. To date, 158 medical groups representing almost 62,000 physicians have joined Cigna's initiative to limit opioid prescribing.

6. Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna removed preauthorization requirements for opioid abuse treatment for all of its private insurance plans beginning in March. 

7. In February, Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee declared increased efforts to address opioid misuse in the state, such as promoting appropriate pain management techniques and establishing policies to curb overprescribing. 

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