Kaine, colleagues ask health insurance companies to play bigger role in fighting opioid crisis

tim kaineU.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined a group of Senators in asking the nation’s top health insurers to play a bigger role in combating the opioid crisis. In their letters to each insurer, the Senators asked the companies to review existing policies in light of the epidemic and take additional steps to make sure they are doing their part to help curb addiction by offering safe alternatives to addictive pain medications.

“Unfortunately, it is often much harder for an individual to seek non-addictive pain medications or non-pharmacologic treatment options at the outset of treatment than it is to get a prescription opioid,” wrote the Senators in their letters. “In order to effectively address this ongoing epidemic, we believe insurance companies must take additional steps to ensure they are playing a more active role in addiction prevention and treatment and providing beneficiaries full access to the range of clinically appropriate services available.”

In light of the opioid epidemic, which in 2016 accounted for more than 63,000 deaths nationwide and more than 1,100 in Virginia, the letters ask the insurance companies to review old policies that could be unintentionally contributing to the drug addiction crisis. For example, policies like prior authorization – where a patient’s doctor must get prior approval from an insurer before prescribing a more expensive non-formulary medication – are well intentioned to keep costs down, but have left cheaper opioids easier to access than many safe alternatives.

The Senators also asked the companies what policies they have in place to make sure patients can access less addictive or non-addictive pain treatments, non-pharmacological treatments like physical therapy, and medication-assisted therapy. The Senators requested the companies disclose whether they use internal controls to fight addiction, and how they identify a patient who might be struggling with addiction. The letter also asks for industry input on other factors Congress should be aware of as it considers additional legislation to address the nation’s addiction epidemic.

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, Kaine has made combating the opioid epidemic a top priority. He introduced the bipartisan Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act to encourage physicians to co-prescribe the life-saving drug naloxone alongside opioid prescriptions and make naloxone more widely available in federal health settings. He also introduced the FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure careful review of new opioid drugs by holding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accountable for the approval of new opioid drugs, ensuring experts’ voices are heard as new and potentially dangerous opioid medications are considered for approval. In December, Kaine sponsored a bipartisan bill, the INTERDICT Act, to halt the flow of fentanyl into the United States, that the President signed into law. In October, Kaine introduced the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act, which would invest $45 billion for the prevention, detection, surveillance and treatment of opioids and opioid addiction.

Kaine and his colleagues sent these letters to Aetna, AHIP, Anthem, BCBS, CareSource, Centene, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser, Molina and UnitedHealth. Read a copy of the letter here

U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Angus King (I-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also signed the letters.

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