Although some progress has been made in efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate the crisis is not slowing down. However, it is important for our beneficiaries across the country to know that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is exploring all of our options to address this national crisis.
As evidence of our commitment to the health and well-being of patients, CMS is publishing a roadmap outlining our efforts to address this issue of national concern. In this roadmap, we detail our three-pronged approach to combating the opioid epidemic, focusing in on prevention of new cases of opioid use disorder (OUD), the treatment of patients who have already become dependent on or addicted to opioids, and the utilization of data from across the country to target prevention and treatment activities.
Current estimates show that over two million[i] people suffer from opioid use disorder, with a prevalence in Medicare of 6 out of every 1,000 beneficiaries.[ii] In order to decrease that number, it is crucial that Medicare beneficiaries and providers are aware that there are options available for both prevention of developing new cases of OUD and the treatment of existing cases. CMS is working to ensure that beneficiaries are not inadvertently put at risk of misuse by closely monitoring prescription opioid trends, strengthening controls at the time of opioid prescriptions, and encouraging healthcare providers to promote a range of safe and effective pain treatments, including alternatives to opioids. We are also working on communications with beneficiaries to explain the risks of prescription opioids and how to safely dispose of them, so they are not misused by others. These are just some of the ways we are looking to protect and care for people with Medicare.
CMS also recognizes that the opioid epidemic has affected people covered by Medicaid across the country in different ways – an estimated 8.7 out of 1,000 Medicaid beneficiaries are impacted by OUD. We believe one crucial effort to help on the treatment front is encouraging states to tailor programs to their populations by taking advantage of flexibilities that are available through Medicaid Section 1115 substance use disorder (SUD) demonstrations that improve OUD treatment. CMS has worked with seven new states since October 2017 to approve waivers to tackle the opioid epidemic in their state. With each state having a unique population, we recognize the challenges that states face in creating programs to help, and we are committed to providing the support necessary to help states achieve positive results for their populations.
Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, CMS is also looking across our other programs to use all the tools at our disposal to address the opioid crisis. We are working to ensure that the private plans offering coverage on the Health Insurance Exchanges also provide options for treating OUD, and we are examining our quality standards across our programs to encourage providers to follow best practice guidelines related to opioid misuse diagnosis and treatment. Further, while we have initiatives specific to Medicare and Medicaid, we are also reviewing all of our programs to find solutions that are working at the local level with states, providers, and payers so that we can disseminate successful ideas as quickly as possible to help our partners know that they do not have to solve this alone.
CMS believes we can make progress in addressing the many aspects of the opioid epidemic in partnership with states and other stakeholder organizations. Every day this crisis claims the lives of loved ones and, in many areas in our country, we have yet to turn the tide. This roadmap is only a start, and as we begin to implement many of our plans and programs, it will continue to evolve. But the roadmap is also a demonstration of CMS’ commitment to explore and offer viable options to address the crisis, to share the information we collect with other agencies and organizations, and to protect our beneficiaries and communities affected by the crisis.