Bill Would Let Physicians, Not Insurers, Decide on Strength of Pain Medications
What doctor prescribes would override limits set by health plans
By Andrew Kitchenman
New Jersey residents could receive quicker access to powerful pain relievers under a bill advancing in the Legislature.
The bill, A-1832 would prevent insurers from requiring people to try more than one pain medication before they would be able to receive the medication that their doctors want to prescribe.
The bill pits advocates for doctors and patients, who say patients shouldn’t be denied powerful drugs like opioids when they need them, against insurers and employers, who emphasize the higher costs and the danger of exposing patients to potentially addictive drugs.
The measure targets a practice known as “fail first protocol” or “step therapy,” in which insurers require that less-expensive medications be tried first. This can lead to a series of less-expensive drugs being tried before the medication preferred by the doctor.
While the state already has rules to prevent step therapy, insurers still delay doctors’ recommended prescriptions by various means, including requiring prior authorizations from the insurer for doctors’ preferred medications.
Under the bill, once one pain medication has been tried and failed, prior authorization for the doctor’s preferred medication wouldn’t be required. In addition, the doctor would determine how long the medication required by the insurer must be tried before moving on to the doctor’s preference.
Timothy J. Martin, a Medical Society of New Jersey lobbyist, said the bill is the right approach for pain medication.
“It is one thing to ask me to fail in my allergy medication for period of time and have the sniffles more than I would normally like to, it’s an entirely different proposition to ask somebody to fail on pain medication before they can move on to the medicine their physician thinks would be more effective,” Martin said. “That provider is in a better position to understand the pain that a patient is going through” than an insurer would be.
The doctor’s preferred prescription would come at a price, both to employers and to the state government, opponents argued.
Sarah McLallen, vice president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, noted that prescription costs comprise 15 percent of rising national healthcare costs.