In another step towards greater treatment of opioid addiction, Cigna announced last week that it would no longer require its members to seek prior authorization to get coverage for medication to treat opioid dependence.
The announcement was part of a settlement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who recently began investigating the insurer’s processes for approving opioid addiction medication.
The previous policy, Schneiderman said, required doctors who prescribed such drugs to respond to numerous questions to justify the prescription, leaving the patient waiting for days in some instances before they could get their medication.
“Removing barriers to proven effective life-saving treatment is an important component to address New York’s and the nation’s opioid addiction crisis,” Schneiderman said in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Other health insurers should take notice of Cigna’s actions to remove access barriers to treat opioid dependency.”
As is often the case when companies are pressured by authorities in large states, such as New York, Cigna will adopt its new policy nationwide. Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, announced a national scheduling policy change last year after facing a legal challenge from Schneiderman over its extensive use of “on-call” shifts for workers.
Expanding access to addiction treatment drugs has become one of the key goals of national efforts to address the opioid epidemic.
In July, the Department of Health and Human Services lifted the limit on the number of patients to whom doctors may prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid dependence, from 100 to 275. A separate bill approved by Congress also included provisions aimed at increasing distribution and availability of naloxone, the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.
There are certainly legitimate concerns over the inappropriate use of buprenorphine, including its trade on the black market. However, experts are increasingly of the opinion that those concerns are outweighed by the benefits of making the drug easily-accessible to the millions suffering with opioid dependence.
In its statement announcing the new policy, Cigna said its goal was to reduce opioid addiction among its members by 25 percent in the next three years.