A new law, introduced by New York State Senator Pete Harckham and signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, will prohibit insurance companies from requiring prior authorization for medications used in the treatment of substance use disorders.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) has long been established as the standard care for opioid and other substance abuse disorders. But MAT medications, like buprenorphine and methadone, which help reduce cravings, prevent overdoses and often block the effects of various substances, are often difficult to access.
“The current crisis of opioid use disorder will need to be addressed through a number of different initiatives, and doing away with prior authorization for medication assisted treatment is a big step forward,” said Harckham. “If we are serious about saving lives, and what we can do right now to save lives, then it was imperative that this law be enacted, and I thank the governor and many other supporters for recognizing this.”
Prior authorization from insurers to allow physicians to prescribe MAT drugs can take upwards of three days, and sometimes even longer. Meanwhile, individuals struggling with substance use begin experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms in as little as six to 12 hours. Without access to MAT, resolve weakens and people relapse; to dull withdrawal symptoms, they return to substance use.
Last month, a study by RTI International, a nonprofit that conducts research for government and commercial clients, showed that removing prior authorization from medications to treat opioid use disorders would result in an 80% decrease of mortality in New York, saving approximately 586 lives per year. In-patient admissions and emergency room visits would decrease as well, saving about $52 million in medical costs a year.
The Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment providers and Advocates of New York State (COMPA) acknowledged passage of the new law to expand access to MAT, and Allegra Schorr, the organization’s president, thanked Harckham and the legislation’s sponsors in the New York State Assembly, Linda Rosenthal, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and Dan Quart “for their dedicated work on this effort, and ultimately for the progress we’ve made.”
As co-chair of the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction & Overdose Prevention, Harckham convened public hearings across New York, with testimony coming from doctors, advocates and experts, along substance users and family members grappling with the opioid crisis. In the 2019-2020 NYS Budget, Harckham was able to secure $100 million in funding to the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) for opioid treatment, recovery, prevention and education services. Harckham is the chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
Dr. Joseph Baudille, President of the New York Chiropractic Council, said, “The New York Chiropractic Council applauds Senator Harckham and Governor Cuomo for enacting this important law to expedite Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in cases of acute suffering from opioid addiction and the suffering of withdrawal, as we work towards educating the public about non-pharmacological alternatives to the treatment of pain, as a long-term solution to this tragic health care crisis, first brought about by corporate drug peddlers.”
Harckham noted that a report from the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction and Overdose Prevention is forthcoming, and will include new legislation.
State Senator Harckham represents New York's 40th District, which includes the towns of Beekman, Pawling and the village of Pawling in Dutchess County; the towns of Carmel, Patterson and Southeast, and the village of Brewster in Putnam County; and the city of Peekskill, the towns of Cortlandt, Lewisboro, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers and Yorktown, the town/village of Mount Kisco, and the villages of Briarcliff Manor, Buchanan, Croton-on-Hudson, Pleasantville and Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County.