Cigna Corp, a major health insurer across the nation with millions customers, took steps this week to make it easier for their clients to get help with opiate addictions. The health insurer announced Friday that it was discontinuing its policy of requiring doctors to seek authorization before commencing treatment for opioid addicts, helping clear an important layer of red tape that often diverts addicts from seeking treatment. The measure is meant to help any addict insured by the giant seek help and begin getting immediately from qualified professionals. Addicts can now begin taking addiction drugs to stem their craving while they enter treatment or go through detox without special approvals from the insurance company.

Previously, Cigna required doctors to submit a prior-approval form for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) requests. The lengthy paperwork answering questions about the patient’s current treatment and medical history caused significant delays for doctors and patients, often causing relapse in individuals suffering the pains of opiate withdrawal. As many addiction treatment providers know, once an addict relapses after seeing help, they often fall through the cracks. The elimination of Cigna’s preauthorization requirements will help doctors give patients access to life-saving drugs such as buprenorphine, marketed under the brand name Suboxone, and even government-approved methadone programs. These lifesaving drugs help stem the pain of withdrawal, and, combined with behavior therapy and other treatment, have helped thousands of addicts find a path to recovery. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, research shows that the use of these drugs as part of the overall treatment program is more effective than other short-term detoxification programs aimed at abstinence.

Helping people get clean with these drugs, however, still presents many challenges. Many providers have difficulties due to insurance regulations as well as other regulatory challenges. Some addiction professionals argue that the drugs can, and are, regularly abused in place of the addict’s drug of choice. There are also access barriers; while Cigna will be allowing opiate users easier access to these treatment tools, under the current federal law, doctors can only treat and monitor maximum of 275 addicts. Providers must obtain government certification and apply for a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Cigna’s policy change will apply nationally, making for easier access to treatments for the estimated 2.2 million Americans who are currently addicted to opioid drugs. It’s hoped that after Cigna made this change, other large insurers will follow their lead, helping to fight the deadly drug epidemic sweeping the nation.


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