UnitedHealthcare (UHC), an operating division of UnitedHealth Group, the largest single health carrier in the United States, recently claimed some early success in its policy to limit first-time opioid prescriptions for dental patients under the age of 19.
The policy, implemented in October of 2018, limits prescriptions of opioids to first-time adolescent dental patients to three days, and limits dosage to fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day. The move came in response to the growing opioid crisis in the United States and marks an attempt to limit the risk of addiction in an age cohort that is frequently prescribed pain pills following wisdom tooth extraction.
More broadly, UHC examined its insurance claims and found that dentists and oral surgeons are responsible for 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions, and nearly half of prescriptions for patients under the age of 19. Those figures match findings from the American Dental Association, as we’ve discussed here before.
A recent piece in the Crain’s Detroit Business publication provides more detail on UHC’s findings.
UHC’s Chief Dental Officer, Ted Wong, claims that his company’s three-day prescription policy, combined with a dental profession education program, has reduced opioid prescriptions by 17 percent for all patients. Prior to the change, the limit was 7 days—and that limit remains in place for adults.
UHC’s new limit comes at a time when many states are already taking legislative action to combat the opioid crisis. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, and Virginia have already passed legislation mandating opioids be prescribed electronically in an effort to tighten control and deter abuse.