An insurer built an algorithm to help employers track opioid use. Now, they're giving away the data for free

Washington-based benefits company First Choice Health (FCH) is aiming to make opioid use data available to employers—even those that don’t contract with it for health coverage. 

FCH, a provider-operated health benefits company, built an algorithm to comb employer’s claims data to measure opioid use among employees across several metrics. Those data are then converted into a report they can use to identify issues with abuse. 

The reports are Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant and are thus stripped of personal data for individual workers. However, it can be used to identify high rates of opioid use among the workforce, information that can then be adapted into initiatives to mitigate the problem, John Robinson, M.D., chief medical officer at FCH, told FierceHealthcare. 

“I really think employers want to know if they have a localized, workforce problem with opioids,” Robinson said. 

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The report is based on four out of nine metrics on opioid prescribing that were borne out of the Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative, a 2017 working group that was convened to build such guidelines. 

The algorithm scans pharmacy claims and provides aggregate workforce data on overall opioid prescriptions, the percentage of workers prescribed chronic opioids (defined as 60 days' worth or more in one quarter), the percentage of people prescribed opioids and sedatives simultaneously and the percentage of new members’ first opioid prescriptions that exceed 14 days in length. 

FCH will also provide benchmarking data so employers can track improvement efforts and performance over time, Robinson said. The sequel code used to compile the reports was vetted by Milliman, an actuarial consulting firm. 

“We want to do this for a community service for this area,” Robinson said. 

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The reports are part of a broader initiative within the benefits company, called Chronic Opioid Pain and Education, that aims to reduce opioid abuse in the workplace. Opioid addiction among workers can lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity and poor health. 

First Choice Health is first making the data available to Puget Sound, Washington-area employers with at least 200 employees for free, but Robinson said the company is hoping to expand beyond this region and into others it serves. More than 1 million people across eight states are enrolled in FCH’s benefits. 

Robinson said that if interest were great enough, FCH would be open to offering the report to employers in states where it doesn’t offer benefits. 

“I think we’re on the right path here,” he said. “It’s all hands on deck to get control of this opioid epidemic.”