Now a new report shows a more than 1,300 percent rise in spending by health insurers in a four-year period on patients with a diagnosis of opioid dependence or abuse.
From 2011 to 2015, insurers’ payments to hospitals, laboratories, treatment centers and other medical providers for these patients grew from $32 million to $446 million — a 1,375 percent increase.
The Fair Health study found a sharp difference in how much insurers spend on individual patients with such a diagnosis.
On average, insurers spend $3,435 a year on an individual patient, but for those with an opioid dependence or abuse diagnosis, that amount jumps to $19,333.
The latest study — part of a series — offers amounts associated with claims billed by providers and paid by insurers for the types of medical services used.
Both studies use de-identified claims data from insurers representing more than 150 million insured Americans who either have insurance through work or buy coverage on their own.
As media attention focuses on drug dependency, more people may be seeking treatment. At the same time, prescription and illegal use of narcotics may also be increasing.
Prescription rates are known to be decreasing, so I wonder why they are suggesting the opposite here.
The study found that emergency room visits and laboratory tests accounted for much of the spending.
Laboratory tests are incredibly profitable, and doctors can scam the system by creating their own drug testing companies.
The report gives some examples of the changes, however. For example, one billing code for a test on opiate use commonly brought in a $31 payment from insurers prior to the change. The two billing codes that replaced it now are commonly paid at $78 and $156
She said some observers speculate that the rapid increase in lab spending might reflect that, with more patients in therapy, the tests are being used to ensure they are taking their proper medications and not abusing narcotics.
But the spending might also reflect a growing use of very expensive urine and blood tests when less expensive ones would be sufficient, said Kolodny.
“I worry about profiteering,” said Kolodny. “We do need tests, but not the expensive ones. A lot of clinics are making extra money off these lab tests.”