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Cigna Lessens Barriers to Opiate Addiction Treatment

cignahealthIn the ongoing battle against the devastation caused by opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers, many groups and policy makers continue to find ways to save lives. Since our country has reached an all-time high in the number of drug overdose fatalities, addressing this immediate concern is literally a life saver.

For many opiate addicts, access to specific types of medications can be vital, either to reverse an overdose situation or to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms by using a short-term drug substitution such as buprenorphine. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, and has proven to be helpful for many people seeking to recover from an opioid addiction.

The addiction treatment field has been at odds with the insurance industry of late regarding the amount of money being paid for rehabilitation services and therapy for people with substance use disorders. For those with insurance coverage, having to obtain prior authorization in order to to receive care can be a huge barrier to recovery, as many times people have to act fast to help them. There can often be very short periods that are favorable for action, and requiring permission to get help can be devastating.

Cigna has now become the first insurance carrier to remove the prior authorization requirement for people needing buprenorphine treatment. The nationwide change comes after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman challenged the insurer by questioning its policies.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Medical School associate professor of psychiatry in addiction medicine John Kelly stated that Cigna’s act is “an extremely positive development that will literally be lifesaving. Removing the pre-authorization barrier allows providers to take advantage of an often narrow window of opportunity when someone addicted to opioids is open to beginning treatment.”

While medications like buprenorphine may not be the total answer, they can step in and act as a placeholder or form of intervention until more thorough treatment can begin. We join addiction treatment providers in applauding this nationwide policy change by Cigna, and hope other insurers will follow suit in recognizing the importance of timely care.

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