TennCare To Clamp Down Further On Doctors Prescribing Opioids | Nashville Public Radio

TennCare To Clamp Down Further On Doctors Prescribing Opioids

Nov 13, 2017

TennCare has tightened controls on opioid prescriptions in recent years, and the state's Medicaid program plans to go a step further next year. It's an effort to decrease the use of highly addictive narcotics — and save some money.

Tennessee has been notorious for how many prescriptions its patients are on — especially those on TennCare. And even after putting some limits on opioids, nearly a third of all adult enrollees have a prescription for high-powered painkillers.

The agency, which covers 1.4 million people in Tennessee and represents the largest share of the state budget, believes opioids are still overused.

"There is not good evidence supporting the long-term use of opioids for chronic, non-cancer pain," TennCare CFO William Aaron says.

TennCare will no longer green-light opioid treatments that are not backed by medical science, Aaron says. And when opioids are appropriate, like after surgery, Aaron says TennCare will increase restrictions on dosage and duration.

This chart shows what share of TennCare's 1.4 million enrollees use opioids. Looking at just adults, roughly a third have narcotic prescriptions, which is down from nearly half a few years ago.
Credit TennCare

With these new restrictions, TennCare expects to cut opioid prescriptions by another five percent, saving roughly a million dollars a year and perhaps even more as costs associated with the opioid epidemic balloon.

So far, the Tennessee Medical Association has not been consulted, according to a spokesman. The TMA represents the state's doctors. Across the country, physicians have supported efforts to curtail opioid use but occasionally resisted limits on their discretion.