CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading a coalition of 37 states and territories urging health insurance companies to examine financial incentives that contribute to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.
The bipartisan coalition announced a two-step strategy intended to identify problematic policies and encourage reforms to spur increased use of non-opioid alternatives for treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain.
Morrisey and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, co-leader of the initiative, spoke about the coalition’s plans at a press conference earlier this month at Marshall University in Huntington.
“We have to ensure that financial incentives, or a lack thereof, for the provision of certain items and services do not contribute unintentionally to this deadly problem,” Morrisey said.
Morrisey and Beshear agree the opioid epidemic is not a Republican or Democratic issue, and join other attorneys general in finding a solution.
“Nearly 80 percent of heroin users first become addicted through prescription pills,” Beshear said. “If we can reduce opioid prescriptions and use other forms of pain management treatment, we will slow or even reverse the rate of addiction.”
Describing the opioid epidemic as “the preeminent public health crisis of our time,” the 37 attorneys general will send a letter to industry trade groups and major insurance providers nationwide. It urges insurers to review their coverage and payment policies as the starting point in a coalition-initiated dialogue focused on incentive structures across the insurance industry.
“We have witnessed firsthand the devastation that the opioid epidemic has wrought on our States in terms of lives lost and the costs it has imposed on our healthcare system and the broader economy,” Morrisey wrote in leading the coalition. “As the chief legal officers of our States, we are committed to using all tools at our disposal to combat this epidemic and to protect patients suffering from chronic pain or addiction.”
The attorneys general, in acknowledging the important role insurance companies play in reducing opioid prescriptions, hope to assess the positive and negative impacts incentive structures have on the opioid epidemic. They contend incentives that promote use of non-opioid techniques will increase the practicality of medical providers considering such treatments, including physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care and non-opioid medications.
Increased reliance on these alternatives will combat a significant factor contributing to the epidemic – the over-prescription of opioid painkillers. The letter notes the number of opioid prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999, despite Americans reporting a steady amount of pain.
Morrisey and Beshear joined attorneys general from Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia as co-sponsors of this effort.
Other attorneys general signing the letter are Arizona, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.