Proposed bill asks insurers to cover alternative pain meds

If state lawmakers sign on, insurance companies in Pennsylvania could be required to cover a new form of opioid pain pill that is harder for people to abuse.

Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) this month introduced House Bill 288, which would require insurance companies to pay for what are called abuse-deterrent opioids, or pain pills that can’t be altered from their original form.

The pills can’t be melted into a liquid and injected, or crushed with a hammer for snorting – two common ways opioids are abused.

The alternative pills have drawn federal attention: In April 2015 the Federal Drug Administration issued a non-binding recommendation that manufacturers produce abuse-deterrent opioids. In July 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which included incentives for manufacturers to develop the pills.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers and health care professionals are focused on preventing abuse of opioid pain pills, because studies show that four out of five heroin users started by taking opioid pain pills that were prescribed to them by physicians.

Despite the highly addictive nature of opioids, people still need to be treated for pain.

Dr. Charles Cutler, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said that while abuse-deterrent properties are not abuse-proof, “they are a step toward reducing abuse.”

“While there are many people who have not had issues with opioids as part of a treatment plan, unfortunately, there are some who have,” Cutler said. “Sadly, those problems can become devastating for the individual and their loved ones.”

People abusing opioid pain pills and heroin are dying at record rates in Pennsylvania, and it has been deemed a public health epidemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf has made the opioid epidemic a priority. Last year he asked the General Assembly to hold a joint session on opioids.

During the session, several bills pertaining to opioids were introduced, including one regarding abuse-deterrent opioids. Although three bills passed at that time, one requiring insurance coverage of abuse-deterrent opioids did not move forward.

Now that a new bill has been introduced, it will have to pass both the House and the Senate before becoming law.

Lenay Ruhl

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