Major Insurer Takes Big Step on OxyContin

Cigna will stop covering most prescriptions
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 6, 2017 11:06 AM CDT
Cigna to Stop Covering OxyContin on Group Plans
This Aug 4, 2011, file photo shows the Cigna logo at the headquarters of the health insurer Cigna Corp., in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

A big change for a huge insurance company: Starting Jan. 1, Cigna will stop covering most OxyContin prescriptions in its group plans. OxyContin, an opioid painkiller, is an extended-release version of oxycodone; extended-release versions contain a higher dose of the active ingredients, which can make them ripe for abuse as some versions can be crushed or melted in order to get the full dose immediately. "Our focus is on helping customers get the most value from their medications—this means obtaining effective pain relief while also guarding against opioid misuse," Cigna's chief pharmacy officer said in a statement Wednesday. He said that Cigna would review individual prescriptions deemed "medically necessary" by doctors, CNBC reports. The insurance giant has a goal of reducing its customers' opioid use by 25% over the next three years, CNN reports.

Instead of OxyContin, Cigna has signed a contract with Collegium Pharmaceutical for the drug Xtampza ER, which is equivalent to oxycodone but is able to "maintain its extended release profile even when cut, crushed, chewed, or otherwise manipulated," Cigna says. However, it's not clear whether Xtampza ER is meaningfully more difficult to abuse than OxyContin (one study says yes, but it was conducted by the drug's manufacturer) and experts say even if a drug is hard to abuse, it can still be quite addictive. "People still get addicted to oral pills. They can still take too much. They can still overdose," says one doctor. Some are also raising questions about the financial agreement between Cigna and Collegium, and in its response to the news, the maker of OxyContin claimed Cigna's move is "more about pharmaceutical rebates" than keeping customers safe. (More opioid addiction stories.)

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