Health insurer Cigna is zeroing in on targeted communities in an effort to combat the opioid crisis

David Grogan / CNBCCigna CEO David Cordani speaking at CNBC’s Healthy Returns conference on March 28.
  • Cigna is taking a new approach to combat the opioid crisis by focusing in on communities with higher than average overdose rates.
  • The health insurer is partnering with health care providers, pharmacists and community organisations to educate, intervene and support its customers.
  • Cigna is also working with employers to develop a more comprehensive coverage plan for its customers.

Cigna is taking a new approach to combat the opioid epidemic.

Its goal: decrease opioid overdoses by 25% by 2021 in communities around the US that have higher-than average overdose rates.

While the health insurer has taken steps earlier this year to address the epidemic by announcing a 25% reduction in prescription opioids used by its commercial customer, Cigna decided it wasn’t enough.

“We realised that there was still a lot left to do,” Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer of Cigna told Business Insider.

Cigna’s initial program will focus on areas in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia and in the metropolitan areas of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. but will expand to other communities over time.

Cigna’s commitment will include providing assistance with medical supplies and professional help to communities. Over the next three years, Cigna will partner with employers, customers, prescribing clinicians, pharmacists and community-based organisations to educate, intervene and support its customers who use prescription opioids. These include providing medication-assisted treatment, comprehensive pain management and enhanced support and counseling, and making naloxone available for overdose treatment, according to the company.

Cigna will also continue to reinforce safe prescribing guidelines, and encourage more communication between care providers, community pharmacists and patients.

The insurer will also work with employers to help them implement health plans that include coverage for prevention and addiction treatments.

According to Nemecek, Cigna continuously assesses all new treatments and medications that come into the market for pain to see how it can make them available to customers. It also encourages physicians to talk with patients about all other options outside of opioids for pain.

Additionally, Cigna is delving into prevention by using data analytics to identify at-risk customers to develop intervention strategies.

There were more than 42,000 deaths attributed to opioids in 2016, and 40% of all opioid overdose deaths involve prescription opioids.

“At this point, we are the first to take this bold step to decrease overdoses in the markets,” Nemecek said. “The opioid crisis is just one example that impacts too many customers, too many communities, too many families, and we want to make sure we’re doing all we can to help them.”

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