CMS reveals new Medicaid policy aimed at the opioid crisis

Prescription and pills
CMS is offering more flexibility to states to allow Medicaid to combat the opioid epidemic, it announced. (Getty/Gti337)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has unveiled a new Medicaid policy that will allow states to design programs that would increase access to substance abuse treatment options in response to the opioid addiction crisis. 

The program, CMS officials said in a letter (PDF) to state Medicaid directors, will allow states to design projects that fit the needs of their populations and measure the value of these programs to Medicaid recipients. 

States will be able to pay for a broader spectrum of substance abuse treatments in these projects, including residential treatments that aren't currently covered by Medicaid without a waiver, CMS announced.  

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"This new demonstration policy comes as a direct result of the president's commitment to address the opioid crisis and ensure states have immediate relief and flexibility," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the announcement. 

recent study found that nearly a quarter of Medicaid patients filled an opioid prescription in 2015 alone. Opioids also contributed notably to Medicaid costs, accounting for 4.1% of all claims. 

Experts say Medicaid programs should be the front line for policymakers as they continue to craft solutions to the opioid epidemic. President Donald Trump last week declared the crisis a national public health emergency. 

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In the letter, CMS said that state projects under its new program should aim to make notable improvements over the course of five years with goals to increase access, reduce overdose deaths, reduce use of the emergency department or inpatient care for drug addiction treatment and improve care coordination. 

CMS also said that it will "ensure states take significant steps" to reduce opioid prescribing. 

In addition to revealing the nationwide program, CMS also approved projects that were already in the works in New Jersey and Utah. New Jersey's program, according to the announcement, will allow its Medicaid program to provide a "flexible and comprehensive" benefit for substance abuse disorder. 

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"This is a tremendous step forward in our efforts to aggressively combat the opioid epidemic and save lives," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also headed President Donald Trump's commission on opioids, said in the announcement. 

CMS approved a waiver for Utah that would be part of a broader reform effort to address substance abuse. Many addicted patients have complex social needs, and the project would grant the state Medicaid program more flexibility to tackle issues like homelessness and the impact of the criminal justice system.