Opioid Commission calls for end to federal policies that incentivize opioid prescription

At today’s Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis provided an update and review of the action report they submitted at the beginning of November. The report outlined a series of recommendations to prevent, treat, and research opioid addiction.

Among the many recommendations discussed throughout the hearing, Gov. Christie, Chairman of the Commission, called for specific policy changes Congress needs to make in order to do its part in combating the crisis. Explicitly, Christie noted a “disturbing trend” in policies that incentivize opioid prescriptions.

“The Commission identified a disturbing trend in federal health care reimbursement policies that incentivizes the widespread prescribing of opioids and limits access to other non-addictive treatments for pain, as well as addiction treatment and medication-assisted treatment.”

“In some cases, non-addictive pain medications are bundled in federal reimbursement policies so that hospitals and doctors are essentially not covered to prescribe non-opioid pain management alternatives. These types of policies, which the federal government can fix with the large entitlement programs, are a significant deterrent to turning the tide on the health crisis we are facing. The Commission has urged the President to direct HHS to fix it.”

Christie also testified that newer pain treatment options cannot compete with commonly used opioids, and asked Congress to find ways to support these non-opioid options.

“The Commission heard from many innovative life sciences firms with new and promising products to treat patients’ pain in non-addictive, safer ways; but they have trouble competing with cheap, generic opioids that are so widely used. We should incentivize insurers and the government to pay for non-opioid treatments for pain beginning right in the operating room and at every treatment step along the way.”

In term of funding new projects, Gov. Christie testified that Congress and the Trump administration need to block grant federal funding for state governments who are “on the front lines of fighting this addiction battle every day.” Christie noted that grants within federal agencies result in money wasted and administrative burden.

However, as the Commission was not charged with quantifying the amount of money and resources needed to employ their various projects and recommendations, they have not done so. Both funding source, and dollar amount are still unknown for what Christie described as “the greatest public health issue of our time.”