AG Hood Urges Health Insurers to Turn to Non-Opioid Pain Management

JACKSON—Today, Attorney General Jim Hood joined 37 attorneys general in urging health insurance companies to find ways to make non-opioid pain management more accessible for people who are currently treating their pain with addictive opioids.

“Right now, many insurance companies cover opioids, which, under those plans, are not as expensive as less addictive pain medicines,” said General Hood. “People shouldn’t be forced to buy opioids that will get them addicted just because it’s cheaper. The way the system is set up is literally killing people.”

General Hood, along with a bipartisan coalition of states and territories, sent a letter this week to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a national association representing the nation’s insurance companies, encouraging the use of non-opioid alternatives for treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain. The letter urges insurers to review their coverage and payment policies as the starting point in a coalition-initiated dialogue focused on incentive structures across the insurance industry. The group contends incentives that promote use of non-opioid techniques will increase the practicality of medical providers considering such treatments, including physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care and non-opioid medications. The letter also encourages doctors to prescribe non-opioid medicines that can be purchased over the counter, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.

“Health insurers are in a position where they can help relieve this epidemic in our country,” said General Hood. “It’s going to take compassion over profits—from the insurers to the drug manufacturers—to change the way we deal with patients’ pain.”

A recent New York Times article reports that a study conducted by NYT and ProPublica analyzing Medicare prescription drug plans covering 35.7 million people found nearly all of those plans covered common opioids; whereas, only one-third of the people covered had access to a less-risky painkilling patch. Another example: where non-addictive lidocaine patches were covered, they cost more than opioids and required prior approval from the insurance companies.

According to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the number of opioid prescriptions in the state makes Mississippi the fifth highest prescriber per capita in the nation, with 1.07 prescriptions per person. The letter notes the number of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled since 1999, despite Americans reporting a steady amount of pain. A copy of the letter is available at
General Hood led the nation in filing the first lawsuit on behalf of a state against multiple drug manufacturing companies for falsely marketing opioids as rarely addictive. The suit was filed in December 2015 in Hinds County Chancery Court against 17 companies. General Hood charges that the companies deceived Mississippi Medicaid, doctors, and consumers in order to boost profits at the expense of innocent victims.

Additional attorneys general signing the letter are Arizona, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.