Senator Calls for Insurers to Increase Access to Non-Opioid Pain Management

Eliminating barriers to non-drug and non-opioid pain management would reduce the effects of the opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic has caused a significant shift in the way that physicians prescribe the potent pain drugs. Despite a reduction in opioid prescriptions, the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives, potentially due to a lack of alternative therapies, such as non-drug treatments.

Sen Joe Machin (D-WV) recently sent a letter to Anthem and UnitedHealth Group in response to a report in The New York Times that alleged insurers were blocking costlier, but less risky treatments, according to a press release.

“This article highlighted the fact that, despite the deadly epidemic, insurance companies were more likely to cover inexpensive, common opioid pain relievers than safer, though more expensive, alternatives,” Machin wrote, according to a press release. “It also noted that while it is generally easy to get an opioid medication covered, patients are required to jump through hoops to receive alternative pain management treatment like physical therapy, and it is much easier for them to get an opioid than to access opioid addiction treatment.”

In the letter, Machin urged the insurers to increase access to less addictive pain drugs and physical therapy and to ensure these treatments were affordable for patients. The senator also called for greater availability of substance abuse treatment.

Reducing or eliminating barriers to non-opioid pain management approaches is crucial to ensure that patients can access and afford the treatment and avoid substance use disorder, according to the release.

Machin’s state of West Virginia has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, with more than 700 deaths related to opioid overdoses in 2016.

“It is clear that the overprescribing of opioid medications is a primary cause of this crisis and that the lack of access to treatment is perpetuating it,” Machin wrote. “It is time now for every person in the medical field to take responsibility and take action to reduce unnecessary opioid prescriptions.”

The senator positions that difficulty accessing non-opioid pain management poses barriers to treatment and will nullify strategies implemented to combat the epidemic. Thus far, many states have implemented rules that target over-prescribing and have restricted opioids for only certain conditions. Several states and the federal government have also declared a state of emergency over the crisis.

By prescribing non-opioid and non-drug therapy, it is less likely that patients will become addicted to opioids and require treatment. Without proper intervention, patients may be at risk of overdose and death, which has been plaguing the country, according to the release.

“I ask you to reduce or eliminate the barriers that your beneficiaries face to access non-opioid pain medications and physical therapy for pain management,” Manchin concluded in the letter. “Just as importantly, I urge you to ensure that every beneficiary that you serve that needs substance use disorder treatment, including behavioral health counseling, is able to affordably access it.”