By Paul J. Gough
Highmark Inc. has seen a double-digit decrease in the amount of opioid prescription fills and a substantial decrease in the duration of opioid use among its membership over the past year.
That’s among data the Pittsburgh-based health insurer released Thursday along with a report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association detailing efforts to combat opioid abuse among its membership. Nationally and at Highmark, statistics that are used to track the opioid epidemic, and insurers responses, show a marked improvement.
Highmark saw a drop of 15 percent from the average 589 prescription fills per 1,000 members in its three-state footprint in 2017, with 16 percent decreases (from 721 to 607 per 1,000) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (from 539 to 455 per 1,000). But opioid-use disorder still cost Highmark $63 million in 2017.
Highmark last February announced a three-pronged approach to do its part to stem the opioid epidemic, including pharmacy management, prescriber monitoring and treatment and therapy for addiction. It’s also using machine learning, provider treatment and pain-management alternatives from Nashville-based Axial Healthcare.
The insurer’s members are taking opioids for a shorter amount of time and at a lower dose compared to 2013 data, Highmark said. Eighty-four percent of Highmark members took opioid medications for seven days or less, compared to 52 percent five years ago.
Highmark’s details follow a report released Thursday on the opioid epidemic by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association that said the number of opioid medications filled by commercially insured BCBS members were down 29 percent nationwide since 2013. Opioid-use disorder claims among its membership were 5.9 in 1,000 members in 2017 but 241,900 members were diagnosed with opioid use disorders over the year.
There were 9,811 Highmark commercial members who were diagnosed with opioid use disorder in 2017, down from 10,397 in 2016.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Association also announced Thursday the creation of the Blue Distinction Centers for Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery that will provide best practices in the field. It will also have a national hotline.
“More can always be done,” said Highmark SVP and Chief Medical Director Charles DeShazer, in a statement Thursday. “The three-pronged approach – better pain management, following CDC guidelines for treatment and access to treatment – all aspects of these could be better.”