Health plans, PBMs, pharmacies offer tips for Trump administration to fight opioid epidemic

A group of pharmacies, PBMs and health plans have suggested that all controlled-substance prescriptions be issued electronically.

A group of pharmacies, health plans and pharmacy benefit managers—including UnitedHealth-owned OptumRx—has offered suggestions for the Trump administration on how to combat the opioid epidemic.

One of their primary requests, as outlined in a letter (PDF) sent this week, is for the federal government and states to establish a seven-day supply limit for initial prescriptions written for acute pain.

The groups also want to all controlled-substance prescriptions be issued electronically. Such a policy reduces opportunities for misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers, according to the organizations, which include OptumRx, Express Scripts, CVS Health, Walmart, Hy-Vee, KPH Healthcare Services, Magellan Rx, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

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They also want to further programs and practices that they’ve already embraced, such as leveraging pharmacists to educate patients, offering clinical programs that prevent drug misuse and overuse, and providing opportunities for consumers to properly dispose of unused or unwanted medications.

“With our combined number of retail pharmacy locations and the lives covered by our respective PBMs and health plans, our joint efforts are resulting in significant changes in how opioids are prescribed, dispensed and consumed,” the letter stated.

“We stand committed to engage in a public-private partnership and to work in the most collaborative fashion across the healthcare system to help solve the national healthcare crisis of opioid abuse.”

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Health insurers are indeed taking a variety of steps to address the opioid epidemic, such as reducing the number of opioid prescriptions filled, using data analytics to target at-risk members and conducting community outreach.

However, they’ve also have received scrutiny about their practices. Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland recently sent letters to major insurers and PBMs requesting information about how they price opioid and nonopioid painkillers—a response to a news investigation that found many insurers limit access to less-addictive pain medications while providing easier access to cheaper, more risky drugs.