There is not just one solution to end the opioid epidemic. We need prevention, treatment, enforcement, and recovery. And we need the health insurance industry to step up, and do its part to combat addiction.
That’s why I’m leading a group of Senators in asking the nation’s top health insurers to both review their existing policies in light of the epidemic, and to take additional steps to fight addiction. My colleagues and I want answers from insurance companies on what they’re doing to make it easier for Ohioans to access non-addictive treatment for pain. And we want to make sure there aren’t additional barriers in place for folks who are already struggling with addiction and seeking treatment.
There are many ways addiction can start, and one of them is with legally-prescribed medication to treat chronic pain. That pain is a serious issue for many Ohioans — especially folks who spend their whole lives working jobs that take a toll on their bodies, whether it’s construction, waiting tables, nursing, or on a factory line.
If you have back pain, and the choice is between an addictive opioid that’s covered by your insurance, or expensive physical therapy that you’ll have to pay for out of pocket, it’s understandable that many Ohioans with tight budgets will choose the former.
We know of one patient who was forced to switch from pre-dosed painkiller patches to morphine, when the insurance company stopped covering the patch, even though the morphine has a higher risk of addiction. Another woman with a painful, chronic condition was forced to stop using a non-opioid, non-addictive prescription painkiller when she changed jobs, because her new company’s insurance didn’t cover it.
People want access to alternative ways to treat pain — they just need their insurance to cover them.
Insurers should be a partner in this fight to end the opioid epidemic. That starts with taking a hard look at their coverage policies. It should be as easy for Ohioans to get access to treatment as it is for them to get an opioid in the first place.
Sherrod Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio.