Minnesota insurers agree to ease access to anti-opioid drug


Major insurance companies offering plans in Minnesota have agreed to a policy change that will mean patients can more quickly get medication to treat opioid withdrawal.

About 30,000 Americans now die each year from overdoses of either prescription opioid painkillers or heroin, which is also an opioid. An increasingly common treatment involves the medication buprenorphine, also known by its brand name Suboxone. It reduces opioid withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings and can block other opioids from taking effect.

Almost three dozen medical professionals contacted the office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson because some insurers were requiring prior authorization for prescriptions of buprenorphine, meaning prescribers would have to contact the insurance company to get their approval before the prescription cost would be covered.

"Sometimes that would cause delay, putting up yet another barrier for people who are addicted to opioids from timely accessing of what can be a very important drug," Swanson said Thursday. "(It"s) a drug that can help stave off the withdrawal effects of addiction for long enough for people to hopefully overcome the addiction."

Swanson's office wrote to insurers in the state last month asking them to drop the prior authorization requirements for buprenorphine. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and Medica have agreed to drop the requirements. Two other companies, HealthPartners and PreferredOne, didn't have prior authorization requirements.

"People trying to escape opioid addiction face enough pressures and barriers already, including these horrific withdrawal effects," Swanson said. "Removal of one more barrier is a positive step in the right direction."

UnitedHealth Group, which administers some health insurance plans in the state, denied the attorney general's request to drop prior authorization.

Swanson called their decision to continue to require prior authorization for buprenorphine "unfortunate... Opioid dependency is a public health crisis, and anything that stands in the way is something we all need to be looking at coming together to remove."

UnitedHealth Group didn't respond to requests for comment.

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