The battle against nationwide drug addiction and overdose may have just gained a powerful new ally. Connecticut-based insurance provider Cigna Corp. is ending the requirement that patients clear difficult administrative hurdles to gain access to medications used to fight opioid addiction. The decision was made after the insurer reached a settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, who recently requested information from the company to address concerns about barriers to treatment. The changes are being implemented across the country, and may be a game-changer for those who have not been able to easily access quality treatment in the past.
Prior to the settlement, Cigna, as well as many other insurance providers still unaffected by the changes, required doctors to fill out long and involved questionnaires before approving medication-assisted treatment, and would sometimes take days for a decision of any kind. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was instrumental in guiding Cigna’s decision, responded to the settlement by saying he hoped other insurance providers followed suit, and that removing these barriers is a fundamental part of addressing opioid addiction in NYC and across the United States. They added that the change in policy applies to Buprenorphine (Suboxone).
For their own part, Cigna said that it voluntarily agreed to end prior authorization requirements for drugs used to treat opioid addiction in its commercial plans, which are those provided to employers and individual consumers, adding that they want to make access to treatment easier for their customers and that it aims to reduce opioid addiction among its customer population by 25 percent in three years. It is, thus far, unclear as to how this policy will resonate in the insurance community or what other insurance providers will follow Cigna’s example. In addition to increasing access to potentially life-saving treatment medications, the policy change may also have the residual benefit of curtailing black-market trade of buprenorphine and other similar drugs.
Anyone who has ever been either directly or indirectly affecte by addiction understands that help is an urgent matter, and that patients often can’t afford to wait days to get the relief they need from withdrawal symptoms. Removing obstacles wherever possible can, and often does, mean the distinction between continued sobriety and relapse…or worse. This latest policy change represents a new era of cooperation between the primary stakeholders in the battle against opioid addiction (treatment providers, insurance companies and the legal system). Combined with the recent increase in the number of patients to which doctors can simultaneously prescribe these drugs, it appears we are starting to head in the right direction.