Cigna removes barrier to opioid addiction medications

Pills and vitamins

One of the largest insurers has taken a step toward mitigating the opioid abuse crisis by tearing down a barrier for patients to receive life-saving medications.

Cigna and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have reached a national settlement to eliminate delays for patients receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction, Scheiderman’s office announced Thursday. The move came after Schneiderman requested that Cigna provide information about its MAT policies to address concerns about barriers to treatment for opioid abuse disorder.

Experts have said prior authorization rules for medications like Suboxone, which help people in the grip of opioid withdrawals, lead to delays in treatment that can result in relapses. 

Terminating the prior authorization rules applies to Cigna’s commercial plan members nationally, not just those in New York, according to the attorney general’s office. Other payers should follow Cigna’s lead, Kelly Clark, president elect at the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), said in the attorney general's announcement.

For its part, Cigna said it appreciates “the ongoing leadership of the New York Office of the Attorney General on this matter,” according to USA Today.

Spending among private insurers for opioid-related diagnoses increased more than 1,000 percent between 2011 and 2015. Opioid epidemic researcher Andrew Kolodny, M.D. and senior researcher at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University told FierceHealthPayer payers ought to be “very motivated” to help solve the opioid crisis by removing barriers to effective addiction treatment.

Kolodny also suggested there is more payers can do, such as using prior authorization requirements for opioid prescriptions lasting longer than three days to help curb addiction before it starts.

Earlier this year, Cigna CEO David Cordani said treating addiction as a chronic illness and supplying claims data to organizations like ASAM comprised promising avenues to target the earliest phases of substance abuse conditions.