Insurers Have Responsibility

Many heroin users become addicted to opiates not out of choice, but because they became dependent on painkillers prescribed to them originally for legitimate reasons. Given the history of prescription opiates, it is no wonder many of their users got hooked on them.

For years, drug companies touted opioid painkillers as virtually risk-free methods of easing pain. It turned out that was far from the truth. The little pills are highly addictive. And once reliant physically on them, many users moved on to heroin.

Most health care professionals appear to have learned their lesson and now exercise caution in prescribing opiates. Most pharmacies are very careful in filling prescriptions for them.

Still, not enough is being done, in part because of the ease with which many insurance companies can be persuaded to cover the cost of pain pills.

Now, 37 state attorneys general, including Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, are trying to convince insurance companies to change that. A few days ago, they signed a letter to the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, outlining why change is needed.

One fact cited in the letter makes the attorneys generals’ case: “Although the amount of pain reported by Americans has remained steady since 1999, prescriptions for opioid painkillers have nearly quadrupled over the same timeframe.” Many, probably most, of those drugs are paid for by insurance companies.

What the attorneys general are asking is simple. They want insurers to provide incentives for health care professionals and patients to utilize methods of pain control other than opiates. Physical therapy, including massage, and non-addictive drugs are options.

More than 91 Americans die of opioid overdoses every day. Precription drugs account for more than half the fatalities.

And some states are being hit harder than others. As Morrisey is well aware, West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation — by far.

Let us hope the insurance industry reacts favorably to the request of the attorneys general. Do they have a financial incentive for doing so? We honestly don’t know.

But as matters stand, tens of thousands of their customers are dying of overdoses every year. Surely insurance executives understand they have a responsibility to try to change that.


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