Anthem plans reduce filled opioid prescriptions by 30%

Anthem, one of the insurers that has joined the effort to combat the opioid epidemic, said it reached its goal—reducing filled opioid prescriptions by 30%—earlier than it initially planned.

The company had originally set the goal among its affiliated health plans with a target of achieving it by 2019. The idea was to limit the quantity of opioid prescriptions in order to prevent accidental addiction and opioid use disorder.

Anthem had already taken steps such as limiting coverage for newly prescribed short-acting opioids to seven days. That policy, rolled out in October 2016, applied to all individual, employer-sponsored and Medicaid plan members—with the exception of those receiving palliative care or who have sickle cell anemia or cancer.

It also implemented a prior authorization policy for long-acting opioids starting in September 2016, and has set up a system that alerts providers about members who may be at risk for an opioid use disorder.

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“We believe these changes in pharmacy policy, complemented by a broad set of strategies addressing the opioid epidemic, will help prevent, reduce and more effectively treat opioid use disorder among our members,” said Sherry Dubester, M.D., Anthem’s vice president of behavioral health.

Cigna, which has taken many of the same steps as Anthem to address the opioid epidemic, announced in April that it achieved a 12% decline in customers’ use of prescribed opioids in the last year. In addition to the steps it took to reduce the use of opioids, Cigna also said it would remove prior authorization restrictions for commercial plan members seeking medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

Even pharmacy benefit managers are joining in the trend. Last week, Express Scripts announced it would implement a new nationwide program that limits the number and strength of opioid medications doctors can prescribe to first-time users. But the American Medical Association objected, saying decisions about prescriptions and treatment plans should be made by doctors and patients, not PBMs.