Re: Aetna is notifying some doctors about their drug-dispensing habits
Lenny Bernstein's August 3 article highlights how one health insurance company is using data to encourage physicians to examine opioid prescribing practices for pain. Insurers can play an even more significant role by expanding access to and coverage for safe, nondrug alternatives such as physical therapy, as recommended by CDC guidelines.
Most insurance plans cover a limited number of visits to a physical therapist (PT). Despite the benefits of physical therapy, most reimburse only for "return to function" rather than for longer treatment required to manage chronic pain. Many won't reimburse unless a patient has a physician referral, which takes time and money. Additionally, many insurance companies require high copays for physical therapy.
For many patients with limited access to physical therapy, their "choice" becomes either taking risky opioids or living with pain.
Combatting the nation's opioid epidemic requires the efforts of everyone involved in health care. Insurers can play an important role by reviewing their benefit design structure to remove barriers to treatment options for pain so all Americans have a real choice.
Sharon L. Dunn, PT, PhD
American Physical Therapy Association
Board-Certified Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy