Insurers are making it harder for me to treat my opioid-addicted patients

By Brian Barnett, via the Washington Post

Brian Barnett is an addiction psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. On February 28, 2018, he was participated in the panel discussion Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred” at Harvard Law School. 

I’m an addiction specialist, and my voice-mail inbox is always nearly full. Some messages are from desperate individuals looking for outpatient treatment or help finding a detoxification program. Others are from patients needing a letter confirming their treatment for a child-custody dispute or care providers informing me that my patients have been hospitalized.

It’s hard to know what to expect, but invariably one type of message awaits: voice mails from pharmacies informing me that a patient’s insurance provider will not approve payment for the medication to treat their opioid addiction unless I obtain prior authorization from the insurer. 

Buprenorphine-naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Suboxone, and other medications, such as methadone and naltrexone, are used in combination with therapy and mutual-help groups to offer a new life for patients with opioid addiction. These medications have been shown to at least double a patient’s chances of remaining abstinent from illicit opioids and dramatically reduce overdose deaths. Without them, about 80 percent of patients using heroin relapse within the first month after detoxification.

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction brings innumerable benefits to both patients and society: It allows many addicted individuals to stop committing crimes, rejoin the workforce, reunite with their families and reintegrate into their community. Thanks to medication-assisted treatment, I have personally witnessed dramatic transformations. It’s like watching chemotherapy curing a patient with cancer.

Given these profound benefits, you may think that insurers would make it easy for doctors to prescribe these medications. But that’s not the case. […]

Read the full op-ed via the Washington Post!

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