The policy change from the Bloomfield, Conn.-based insurer comes after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation “to address concerns about barriers to treatment” as a result of the requirement.
Cigna required physicians to answer numerous questions about a patient's treatment and medication history before they received approval to prescribe medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. The process could sometimes take several days, delaying care.
MAT usually involves the use of buprenorphine and naloxone along with counseling. The treatment has gained support for its effectiveness to treat opioid addiction, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The change affects all Cigna customers enrolled in commercial plans.
In a prepared statement, Cigna spokeswoman Karen Eldred said, “This will help make it easier for our customers to access coverage for the medications they need.”
Cigna already had a policy in place that didn't require providers to receive prior approval when they prescribed methadone, naltrexone and other addiction medications. The change will now include buprenorphine as well.
Eldred also added the change will help Cigna's goal to reduce opioid use among its customers by 25% in three years.
Schneiderman praised the decision by Cigna, adding “Our health insurers should take notice of Cigna's actions to remove access barriers to treat opioid dependency and I encourage those insurers to follow suit.”
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, which applauded the move by Cigna, said in a prepared statement that prior authorization is a “significant barrier” for people with substance abuse addictions. “Any delay in obtaining addiction medications can cause people to relapse. For people with opioid addiction, relapse can be deadly.”
According to the CDC, 47,055 people died from a drug overdose in 2014, a 6.5% increase from the year before.