Wolf backs opioid-prescribing limits health insurer says are effective

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks about Pennsylvania's opioid crisis during a meeting at Independence Blue Cross headquarters in Philadelphia.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks about Pennsylvania's opioid crisis during a meeting at Independence Blue Cross headquarters in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A new policy limiting opioid prescriptions is already making a difference, according to Independence Blue Cross officials at an event Tuesday, where Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also provided an update on what the state is doing to address the opioid crisis.

The Philadelphia-based insurer now covers a maximum five-day supply for most new opioid prescriptions since adopting the policy in July. Since then, there’s been a drop in the number of people on its insurance plans who are taking opioids, company officials said.

According to Rich Snyder, its chief medical officer, 8,000 fewer members had prescriptions for the addictive painkillers as of Oct. 1.

And Snyder said the policy hasn’t gotten the pushback he expected.

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“We’ve had one complaint from a member, and we’ve had one physician complain about the five-day limit,” he said.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering writing similar restrictions into state law. A bill passed by the Senate and currently in committee in the House would prohibit the prescription of opioids for more than seven days. The measure would allow exceptions for cancer, hospice care, and other cases when doctors deem longer scripts to be in their patients’ best interests.

Wolf said he supports the legislation.

“I’m doing everything I can to make sure that it gets to my desk,” Wolf said.

More than 4,600 people died of drug overdoses in Pennsylvania last year, Wolf said, and many who die of heroin overdoses started with a prescription painkiller.

New Jersey passed a law in February that limits initial opioid prescriptions to five days.

Snyder said policies like these could cut the number of leftover pills that fall into the wrong hands. He said stories he heard while serving on Mayor Jim Kenney’s opioid task force inspired the new limit.

“We heard young folks describe how they had raided family members’ or loved ones’ medicine cabinets for their first doses of opioids, and liked it so much they went back and got more,” Snyder said.

This disclosure: Independence Blue Cross supports WHYY.

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