King, Colleagues Urge Health Insurers to Step Up Response to Opioid Epidemic

 U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined a group of his Senate colleagues to write to the nation’s top health insurers urging them to do their part to combat the opioid epidemic. In an effort to hold the insurance industry accountable, the Senators asked the companies to both review their existing policies in light of the epidemic, and to take additional steps to make sure they are working actively to help curb addiction. 

 “Unfortunately, it is often much harder for an individual to seek non-addictive pain medications or non-pharmacologic treatment options at the outset of treatment than it is to get a prescription opioid,” wrote the Senators. “In order to effectively address this ongoing epidemic, we believe insurance companies must take additional steps to ensure they are playing a more active role in addiction prevention and treatment and providing beneficiaries full access to the range of clinically appropriate services available.” 

In light of the opioid epidemic, which accounted for 418 deaths in Maine in 2017, the letter asks the insurance companies to review old policies that could unintentionally be contributing to the drug addiction crisis. The letter also asks the companies what policies they have in place to make sure patients can access less addictive or non-addictive pain treatments, non-pharmachological treatments like physical therapy, and medication-assisted therapy. The Senators pressed the companies to disclose whether they use internal controls to fight addiction, and how they identify a patient who might be struggling with addiction. The letter also asks for industry input on other factors Congress should be aware of as it considers additional legislation to address the nation’s addiction epidemic. 

Senator King has held eight roundtable discussions in Maine, in Farmington, Paris, Portland, Brewer, Milo and three in Bangor. Each of these focused on a different aspect of the opioid and heroin crisis, and each has helped inform his work in Washington, where he is a leading voice on the immediate need to address the epidemic. He has repeatedly called on Congress and both the Obama and Trump administrations to fund laws and agencies that help address the drug epidemic. This fall, he led a letter to the Trump Administration urging additional funding for the opioid epidemic, and in October he joined with a group of colleagues to introduce the Combatting the Opioid Epidemic Act, legislation that would invest $45 billion for prevention, detection, surveillance, and treatment of opioids. Senator King also recently wrote to President Trump urging him to allow the government to negotiate lower prices for life-saving opioid overdose reversal drugs like Naloxone.

 The Senators wrote to Aetna, AHIP, Anthem, BCBS, CareSource, Centene, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser, Molina and UnitedHealth.