Brown urges changes in opioid healthcare

Several senators sent letters to providers asking for updates

By Michael Williamson -

Several U.S. senators across the country are urging insurance companies to do their part to combat the opioid epidemic.

Last week, Sens. Sherrod Brown and Ed Markey (D-MA) led an effort to send a letter to the companies which outlined their concerns with addiction treatment coverage. The letter was signed by 15 senators and sent to Aetna, AHIP, Anthem, BCBS, CareSource, Centene, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser, Molina and UnitedHealth.

In a phone conference with journalists Wednesday, Brown said the effort is part of a multi-step process in ensuring effective action is taken.

“We know there are many ways addiction starts. One of them is with legally prescribed medication to treat chronic pain,” Brown said. “It’s important to understand the decisions on these prescriptions are not always made by doctors alone. Health insurance coverage policies play a significant role when it comes to accessing non-addictive pain treatment options.”

He added that urging these companies to review their benefits policies may lead to patients having better access to coverage that would include non-addictive options.

“If you have back pain and the choice is between an addictive opioid that’s covered by your insurance or expensive physical therapy you’ll have to pay out of pocket. It’s understandable the choice that Ohioans make often times,” said Brown.

He added that people want access to these alternative methods for treatment but have to wait on insurance companies to cooperate and change their policies.

Brown was joined in the call by Dr. Shawn Ryan in Cincinnati who is an addiction specialist.

“Until it is just as easy to access other proven modalities such as physical therapy as it is opioids, we will continue to see the over-utilization of these pain medications which can, in some cases, lead to misuse and addiction,” Dr. Ryan said. “Prior authorizations, high co-pays, restrictive networks etc., lead both patients and providers to choose cheap and simple paths which are often, unfortunately opioid pain medications.”

Dr. Ryan added that it’s important to get these issues straightened out as there are still patients that do require opioid pain medication treatment and that the restrictions should work to help separate the differences.

The call to insurance companies goes hand in hand with Brown and Markey’s Interdict Act legislation, signed in law in January, which provides border and customs agents with $9 million for additional portable chemical screening devices to check packages, mail and travelers coming into the country.

Several senators sent letters to providers asking for updates

By Michael Williamson

Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.

Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.