AMCNO Agrees with HHS Action Plans to Combat Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking several new steps to tackle the nation’s opioid epidemic, according to an announcement made by HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell on July 6.

The new actions build on the HHS Opioid Initiative that launched in March 2015 and is focused on three key priorities:

  • Improving opioid prescribing practices;
  • Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder; and
  • Increasing the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.

These actions also build on the National Pain Strategy, which is the federal government’s first coordinated plan to reduce the burden of chronic pain in the United States.

Of particular note is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to remove the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey pain management questions from the hospital payment scoring calculation.  Many clinicians have reported that they feel pressured to overprescribe opioids because scores on the survey are tied to Medicare payments to hospitals. Those payments, however, currently have a very limited connection to the pain management questions on the HCAHPS survey.  In the proposed rule, hospitals would continue to use the survey to assess patients’ pain, but the questions would not affect the level of payment hospitals receive. The AMCNO has long advocated for this change, and we are pleased to see that it is being addressed by CMS. 

Another action of note is the Buprenorphine Final Rule. Buprenorphine is one of the drugs frequently used for MAT for opioid use disorders. The finalized rule by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration allows practitioners who have had a waiver to prescribe the drug for up to 100 patients for a year or more to obtain a waiver to treat up to 275 patients. This rule will be effective August 5, 2016. Click here to view a summary of it.

The other action steps the HHS is planning to take are:

  • A requirement for Indian Health Service opioid prescribers and pharmacists to check their state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database prior to prescribing or dispensing any opioid for more than 7 days
  • More than a dozen new scientific studies on opioid misuse and pain treatment that will be launched by the HHS
  • Provide prescribers with access to the education and training they need to make informed decisions

For more information on the other actions the HHS has been working on to address the opioid problem, click here.

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