Health insurance trends may be driving opioid epidemic

Health insurance trends - Pills - pain killers - drugs

A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Study measured this effect.

Health insurance trends toward greater popularity of coverage may be pushing along the opioid epidemic. The reason, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study, the reason is that the majority of private insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid aren’t doing enough to stop it.

The study examined coverage policies from major health insurance companies in 2017.

The researchers looked into what the policies offered in terms of coverage for treating chronic lower back pain. According to the health insurance trends research, the policies were lacking in important opportunities to direct patients away from prescription opioids in favor of effective and safe treatments.

“The good news is that an increasing number of health plans are recognizing their contribution to the epidemic and developing new policies to address it. The bad news is that we have a very long way to go,” said Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness co-director, G. Caleb Alexander. “Our findings suggest that both public and private insurers, at least unwittingly, have contributed importantly to the epidemic,” added Alexander, who is also an associate professor at the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology.

The health insurance trends study was published in the JAMA Network Open medical journal.

This recent study represents the most comprehensive examination of health insurance policy pain coverage. Moreover, it has arrived at a time in which the opioid epidemic continues to grow like wildfire across the United States. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data, over 42,249 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, the most recent year with complete data. This represented the highest number of opioid-related deaths in American history.

That same year, over 2.1 million Americans were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder or addiction. The estimated economic cost of the opioid epidemic is as high as $504 billion per year.

The study researchers focused specifically on 62 prescription drugs used for chronic lower back pain treatment. What they found was that opioids were often prescribed when safer and yet still effective alternatives could have been selected.

Health insurance trends - Pills - pain killers - drugs“Opioids are just one tool in the pain management tool box, and unfortunately, many of the plans that we examined didn’t have well-developed policies in place to limit their overuse,” said Alexander about the health insurance trends study findings.

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