Arkansas sets standard for states by removing prior authorization for treatment of opioid use disorder

The American Medical Association (AMA) and Arkansas Medical Society (AMS) commended Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas General Assembly for putting an end to senseless administrative barriers to evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD).

Signed into law this week, Arkansas Act 964 requires all health insurers and the Arkansas Medicaid program to remove prior authorization to FDA-approved medications that have been shown to support recovery, reduce health care costs and save lives, including buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. These medications are part of what is commonly referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT), considered the gold standard for treating OUD, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

The new law also requires that these medications must be on the lowest cost-sharing tier, which the AMA believes is critical to increase availability and affordability of MAT.

“Opioid-related overdose death rates unfortunately continue to rise nationwide, but the state of Arkansas is taking the right steps to remove unnecessary restrictions to evidence-based treatment that can help end the epidemic. I encourage all states to follow Arkansas’ lead and enact similar life-saving legislation,” said AMA President-elect Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force. “I commend Governor Hutchinson, Representative Deborah Ferguson, and Senator Cecile Bledsoe for their leadership on this critical issue.”

“The Arkansas Medical Society championed this bill because we’ve seen firsthand how delays and denials of care because of prior authorization harm our patients,” said Gene Shelby, MD. “This bill received unanimous support because all stakeholders came to see that the status quo has to change if the epidemic is to end. Removing prior authorization for MAT is an important step in that direction.”

Arkansas, which saw a 10-percent increase in the opioid-related overdose death rate from 2016 to 2017, is the first state this year to enact this type of legislation, setting an important example for the rest of the country.