Does Pa.’s AG Have the Solution to Our Opioid Epidemic?

AG Josh Shapiro laid out 10 recommendations for the insurance industry to help stem this public health crisis.

Photo illustration by Joe Trinacria.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro attended a forum hosted by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation in Philadelphia earlier this week to address the state and region’s growing opioid epidemic.

“Heroin and opioids are the number one public safety crisis in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro tells Philly Mag. “While we’re working hard every day across Pennsylvania to lock up the drug dealers peddling these poisons, we’re equally focused on the root causes of this epidemic – pharmaceutical companies who are dumping dangerous pills in our communities and doctors who are over-prescribing and even diverting these powerful medications for illegal purposes.”

To help tackle this deadly issue, Shapiro offered the following recommendations to the insurance industry:

  1. Increase the number of plans covering substance use disorder treatment.
  2. Expand the number of days that treatment is covered.
  3. Increase mental health coverage.
  4. Remove pre-authorization for addiction treatment.
  5. Require pre-authorization for opioids.
  6. Provide shorter opioid prescriptions.
  7. Cover all medically assisted treatments.
  8. Increase access to alternative pain treatments.
  9. Encourage doctors to become certified for Suboxone.
  10. Start reimbursing certified recovery specialists.

“I went to Independence Blue Cross yesterday to complement them for what they’ve done, and to challenge them and others in the industry to do a lot more as we work together to combat this crisis in our Commonwealth,” Shapiro says.

Drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia’s five-county region increased by 30 percent from 2015 to 2016. The number of fatal overdoses reported in the city nearly doubled from 2013 to 2016. More than 900 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia last year.

“The toll of addiction and overdose is stunning in Philadelphia and across the nation,” IBC president and CEO Daniel Hilferty said at Tuesday’s forum. “We are fully engaged in battling this epidemic on several fronts: through education and public awareness efforts, by influencing safe prescribing of opioids by physicians, and by ensuring appropriate access to treatment for our members.”

At the event, Hilferty announced a partnership between the IBC Foundation and the Public Health Management Corporation through its Supporting Treatment and Overdose Prevention (STOP) initiative to conduct a study of the warm-handoff protocol currently used by five Bucks County hospitals via the Bucks County Connect-Assess-Refer-Engage-Support (B-CARES) program. The intent of the investigation is to develop a best practice model that can be replicated in other counties across the state.

“We need an all hands on deck approach to this crisis, from law enforcement and doctors to treatment providers and insurers,” Shapiro said at Tuesday’s forum. “While much more needs to be done, I’m grateful to Independence Blue Cross for convening today’s meeting and for their work supporting opioid abuse prevention, research and treatment.”

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