June 26, 2017
KINGSPORT — Tennessee’s largest health insurer let business leaders at a Fourth Friday Kingsport Chamber of Commerce breakfast know it wants to be part of a solution to the opioid crisis.
“We’re not here to lecture you on the dangers of opioid abuse. Our guess is everyone in this room has been touched in your immediate family (by opioid abuse),” Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) President and CEO J.D. Hickey told breakfast attendees at the MeadowView Marriott.
Andrea Willis, the company’s chief medical officer, showed a map of the Tennessee counties with the highest rates of opioid abuse — including Sullivan, Hawkins, Washington, Carter and Unicoi in Northeast Tennessee.
The insurer made the decision 18 months ago to be part of the public health solution to the escalating crisis by implementing more stringent authorization and quantity limits and aggressive targeting of prescribers.
“Everyone has a role to play to tackle this issue,” Willis said. “Our role is to promote appropriate pain management … and reduce addiction, overdoses and deaths.”
“Note the tag line: don’t be an accidental drug dealer,” Willis said of the campaign.
The quantity limits, according to BCBST, targeted pain medications such as hydrocodone, codeine and morphine controlled release products. That resulted in a more than 180,000 reduction of prescribed tablets, according to the company.
“These pills are cheap from a reimbursement perspective,” Hickey pointed out.
Through January 2017, BCBST said its coverage review requests showed a 39 percent denial rate among all its business lines.
“Some providers welcomed the changes and support it,” Willis said.
Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, who has filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers with some fellow prosecutors, noted the battle against the opioid crisis won’t be easy.
“We’re up to our eyeballs in this problem … but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Staubus stressed.
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Hank Hayes is a staff writer for the Kingsport Times News.