Cigna touts progress in effort to curb opioid use

Cigna’s effort to tackle the opioid epidemic has resulted in a 12% decline in customers’ use of prescribed opioids in the last year—progress the insurer mainly credits to its collaboration with doctors.

The 12% decline in opioid prescription use means Cigna is almost halfway toward its goal of a 25% reduction by 2019, the company said in its announcement. It also noted that now 158 medical groups that are part of Cigna Collaborative Care have signed Cigna's pledge to reduce opioid prescribing and to treat opioid use disorder as a chronic condition.

“The opioid epidemic is far too big for any one person or organization to fight alone. Success will require the efforts of multiple stakeholders,” Cigna CEO David Cordani said. “The decline in opioid use that we have seen in just one year is encouraging and reinforces how much more we can accomplish as we continue to work together."

The insurer said its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic have included analyzing claims data to detect patterns that suggest opioid misuse and notifying those individuals’ providers. Cigna also said previously that it will provide the American Society of Addiction Medicine with two years of substance use claims data.

In addition, the insurer established a database for doctors that outlines opioid quality improvement initiatives, and it alerts doctors when their opioid prescribing patterns are not consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

Starting in July, Cigna will go further by placing quantity limits on most new short-acting opioid prescriptions. It will also require prior authorization for most new prescriptions for long-acting opioids that aren’t being used for hospice care or as part of treatment for cancer or sickle cell disease.

Even as it plans to add those new prior authorization rules, however, Cigna has taken steps to remove others. As part of a settlement with New York last fall, the insurer said it would end its prior authorization rules nationwide for its commercial plan members seeking medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Advocates have said such rules can delay opioid addicts’ access to treatment, which can lead them to relapse.

Other health insurers’ efforts to mitigate the opioid epidemic have included assigning social workers to support recovering patients, and training members and their families to use the overdose-reversing drug Narcan.