Insurance industry contributions may have helped kill opioid bill
Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | 10.31.16
(Harrisburg) -- State lawmakers have taken a major step forward by approving a number of proposals to address the opioid crisis.
But one didn't make it through, despite support from both Republicans, Democrats and Governor Tom Wolf.
It would have required insurance companies to cover opioids that are less likely to be abused, because the pills are harder to crush or dissolve.
Insurance companies had protested the measure from the start -- arguing the cost of abuse-deterrent opioids would push premiums up since the drugs can be more expensive than standard opioids.
The GOP-controlled Senate was preparing for a final vote on the bill, when an amendment was offered.
Proposed by Republican state Senator Don White of Indiana County, it added mandatory prescribing guidelines (Pennsylvania already has voluntary guidelines) and required prescribers to hand out a pamphlet with every opioid prescription.
The Senate voted to add the amendment, which immediately garnered the attention of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which sent a letter to senators calling for a no vote on the bill.
The bill never came up for a final vote.
Governor Wolf's office pointed the blame at the Medical Society for killing the bill.
But why did White bring the amendment forward in the last moments?
He did not return multiple phone calls from WITF.
According to the senator's campaign finance reports this year, he has received nearly $50,000 from the insurance industry - or about one-fourth of all contributions he received from political action committees this year. White also received $2,000 from pharmaceutical companies, and $500 from CVS Caremark.
Capital BlueCross' PAC donated the most to White with $13,700.
In a statement to WITF, Capital BlueCross says "It is imperative that our voice is added to these discussions to serve the best interest of our members. The answer is no, we did not request, nor did we advocate for the amendment added to the bill this week."
Capital BlueCross says it currently covers abuse deterrent opioids in its benefits.
It adds: "We did not believe the bill would impact us or our medical policy to protect members from inappropriate access to opioids. However, we have been consistent in our stance against the extreme price inflation for prescription medicine, including abuse deterrent opioids."
Senator White also received donations from PACs controlled by other familiar names in the health care industry like Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealth, Highmark, Gateway Health, Geisinger and Independence Blue Cross.
Highmark -- one of the two major health insurers in the midstate -- declined to comment about their role in the White amendment.
Published in PA Policy