Health care insurers including Medicare, Medicaid and major private insurers have not done enough to combat the opioid epidemic, suggests a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Bloomberg School researchers examined major insurers’ 2017 coverage policies for drugs to treat chronic lower-back pain, and concluded that these policies missed important opportunities to steer patients towards safer and more effective treatments than prescription opioids.
“Our findings suggest that both public and private insurers, at least unwittingly, have contributed importantly to the epidemic,” says study senior author Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of epidemiology and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
The study, which was published online on Friday, June 22, in the journal JAMA Network Open, provides one of the most comprehensive looks ever at insurers’ pain coverage policies, and comes as the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has estimated that in 2016, the most recent year for which complete data are available, over 42,249 Americans died from opioid overdoses, the most of any year on record. More than 2.1 million Americans had an opioid use disorder (addiction) in 2016, with economic costs from the epidemic estimated to be as high as $504 billion dollars.