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Kentucky joins national movement seeking solution for opioid crisis through insurance companies

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The Attorneys General of Kentucky and West Virginia joined together on Monday to call on health insurance companies to help find workable solutions for the opioid crisis.

Democrat Andy Beshear and Republican Patrick Morrisey appeared at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, to announce that they and 36 other state attorneys general want the insurers to promote non-opioid pain management alternatives when viable, for chronic, non-cancer pain – even if they are not currently covered at the same level as prescription opioids.

“Nearly 80 percent of heroin users first become addicted through prescription pills,” Beshear said. “If we can reduce opioid prescriptions and use other forms of pain management treatment, we will slow or even reverse the rate of addiction.”

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (right) speaks about opioid addiction at a news conference Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. At left is West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Beshear said it is not a Republican or Democratic issue and thanked Morrisey for continuing his nonstop efforts to work with Beshear to find workable solutions to the opioid epidemic.

“We have to ensure that financial incentives, or a lack thereof, for the provision of certain items and services do not contribute unintentionally to this deadly problem,” Morrisey said.

Both men said insurance companies can play an important role in reducing opioid prescriptions and making it easier for patients to access other forms of pain management treatment.

“Simply asking providers to consider providing alternative treatments is impractical in the absence of a supporting incentive structure,” Morrisey said. “All else being equal, providers will often favor those treatment options that are most likely to be compensated either by the government, an insurance provider or a patient paying out-of-pocket.”

Attorneys General from the border states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Virginia are also part of the multi-state effort announced by Beshear and Morrisey.

Beshear, who is co-chair of the Substance Abuse Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, announced in June his office intends to file multiple lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers where there is evidence that they contributed to the opioid epidemic by illegally marketing and selling opioids to Kentuckians.

To support that effort, Beshear issued a request for proposals for legal services to assist the Commonwealth in multiple lawsuits and to ensure that Kentucky tax dollars are not used for the costs of the litigations. The selection process to choose a law firm is still underway.

More than 197 million doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in Jefferson County from 2012 through mid-2017, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said last month. Fatal overdoses increased 90 percent in the county in five years, averaging nearly one death per day last year, Fischer said in August.

Addiction is also curtailing economic growth because businesses are finding it more difficult to find employees who aren’t battling addiction, Beshear said. Addiction is “the single greatest threat to economic growth,” he said.

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