Blue Cross Blue Shield study finds spike in opioid addiction among its commercially-insured members

     The diagnosis of opioid use disorder increased 493 percent from 2010 to 2016. (Graph from Blue Cross Blue Shield)

    The diagnosis of opioid use disorder increased 493 percent from 2010 to 2016. (Graph from Blue Cross Blue Shield)

    A new study released Thursday by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association finds that problems with opioid addiction are increasing sharply among its members on commercial health insurance plans.

    The news comes as Independence Blue Cross, the member insurance company for the Philadelphia region, is implementing new policies to fight the opioid crisis.

    The Blue Cross Blue Shield study draws on claims data from those they insure, and finds that rates of opioid addiction were nearly six times higher last year than they were in 2010. In 2016, nearly one in a hundred of its commercially-insured members were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder.

    The data demonstrates that “this is a problem that is not clustering in the very poor or the underserved, rather it’s affecting quite a broad swath of the U.S. population,” said Joshua D. Lee, a physician at the New York University School of Medicine who researches opioid addiction. Lee was not involved in the study.

    The study also finds that while the use of medication-assisted treatment is growing, it’s far from keeping pace with new cases of opioid addiction. Evidence shows treatment plans that use supportive medications like methadone to be more effective than those that omit them. Rates of medication-assisted treatment for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s members grew 65 percent over the seven-year period of the study, while opioid addiction rose by 493 percent.

    “The lesson there is that still, not enough people with the condition are getting the indicated treatment,” Lee said.

    Earlier this week, Independence Blue Cross announced that starting in July, it will limit coverage for initial opioid prescriptions to five days.

    “Looking at this data confirms the need for us to take the actions that we’ve taken,” said Rich Snyder, the insurer’s chief medical officer.

    The company will still cover longer opioid prescriptions for cancer patients and people receiving end-of-life care. These patients were also excluded from the national study.

    The insurer will also start covering methadone for addiction treatment beginning in August.

    This disclosure, Independence Blue Cross supports WHYY.

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