CareFirst, Aetna take steps to combat opioid epidemic 

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Aetna and CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield have announced new initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. (Getty/smartstock)

Two big-name insurers revealed new initiatives aimed at curbing the nationwide opioid epidemic. 

CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield announced that it will invest $1.5 million in nonprofit community health efforts against the addiction crisis in the Baltimore and District of Columbia region and has issued new prescribing limits and treatment options for members who may be addicted to opioids. 

CareFirst will issue a request for proposals to regional nonprofits in January and will award the funding within the first quarter of 2018, according to the announcement. CareFirst also launched new quantity and duration limits for opioid prescriptions in October and formed the Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Disorder Program that providers can use to refer members to substance abuse treatment. 

"The impact of opioids in the region we serve has been well documented," CareFirst CEO Chet Burrell said in the announcement. "As the region's largest health insurer and one with a unique community mission, we want to take a comprehensive approach to address the opioid crisis for the greater community." 

RELATED: Public, private payer data shine spotlight on opioid epidemic 

CareFirst also continues to expand its network of covered addiction recovery centers, according to the announcement. 

Aetna also announced prescribing limits for opioids and plans to waive copays for Narcan for its fully insured commercial members. It said that close to 35% of members who were prescribed Narcan between January and June of this year did not pick up the prescription, with cost as a likely mitigating factor. 

Members were also more likely to forgo a Narcan prescription as copays increased, according to the announcement. About 77% of prescriptions were abandoned when copays were between $100 and $150, and 46% were abandoned with copays between $40 and $50. 

"Cost is clearly a factor in whether individuals with substance abuse disorder obtain medication that could save them from a fatal overdose," Harold Paz, M.D., Aetna's chief medical officer, said in the announcement. "By eliminating this barrier, we hope to keep our members safe until they are ready to address their addiction." 

RELATED: Payers can 'do quite a bit' to curb the costly opioid crisis, expert says 

Aetna will also limit acute or postsurgical prescriptions to seven days for patients who are taking opioids for the first time, to reduce supply and the risk for addiction, according to the announcement. Last year, the payer put "superprescribers" on notice, telling more than 900 physicians that they were among the top 1% of opioid prescribers in its network. 

Earlier this year, the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership released a list of several steps insurers can take to curb the opioid crisis. In addition to promoting safe prescribing guidelines and increasing access to naloxone, the group recommends that insurers use data to identify and correct concerns, and collaborate to promote best practices.