Opioid abuse and addiction continue to be a crisis affecting people across America, regardless of gender, income level, or age. Employers, in turn, are faced with rising costs of healthcare treatments. A recent study revealed that while opioid prescription use has fallen among people with employer-based health coverage, the costs associated with treating those with opioid addiction have gone up sharply in the past several years.
In April, the Kaiser Family Foundation published findings from its analysis, “A Look at How the Opioid Crisis Has Affected People with Employer Coverage,” which showed that among people with large employer coverage, the frequency of opioid prescriptions increased from 2004 to 2009 but began to fall soon after. Despite the decline in the number of people taking opioid drugs, the annual cost of treating opioid addiction and overdose, from both prescription and illicit use, increased dramatically to $2.6 billion in 2016 from $0.3 billion 12 years earlier.
Of the $2.6 billion in annual costs for treatment, insurance covered 88%, while patients covered the remaining $312 million. The bulk of spending on inpatient and outpatient treatment was for employees’ children (53%) while just under a third (29%) was for employees themselves, and the remaining (18%) was for spouses. Treatment for opioid addiction and overdose, the bulk of which is for dependents of employees, represents a small yet growing share of overall employer health spending.
Kaiser’s finding also indicated trends in prescription opioid use and spending specific to people with large employer coverage. The Kaiser study found that 22% of people between the ages of 55 and 64 had at least one opioid prescription in 2016, compared withl 12% of young adults and 4% of children.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also found that while there has been a drop in the number of opioids being prescribed, more can be done to improve prescribing practices. The CDC firmly believes that an essential way to prevent opioid addictions and overdose deaths is to improve opioid prescribing. This is where the healthcare providers have a crucial role in offering safer and more effective pain management, which could ultimately reduce the costs associated with treatment.