In honor of National Recovery Month, those who are in recovery and those who support them, we know that addiction – even opioid use disorder – can be managed successfully.
Unfortunately, much treatment for opioid use disorder today focuses on treating either the body—through drugs that assist in lessening the physical cravings of opioids—or through behavioral therapy, such as counseling, to begin the emotional healing and help change behaviors.
We believe people managing opioid use disorder have better recoveries when both the mind and the body are treated. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other national organizations, like National Alliance on Mental Illness, agree.
So do many providers. One of them is Groups Recover Together, an outpatient provider that delivers evidence-based medicine alongside a focus of community and holistic care. Groups’ clinical system provides medication and weekly meetings to help people managing opioid use disorder achieve a sustained recovery. More than 90 percent of members attend weekly group therapy meetings and abstain from illicit opioids each week.
In the past four years, Anthem affiliated health plans have made a concerted effort to contract with providers like Groups, in addition to taking other measures, to ensure members in its affiliated health plans have access to combined treatment. This work was part of an Anthem pledge to make a positive impact on the opioid epidemic by doubling the number of people who receive both treatments.
This is not a number that we are required to meet by any government or non-profit accreditation standard. It is a standard that we believe in and we set for ourselves. As leaders in behavioral health, we aim to set the metric by which others follow.
As such, Anthem has effectively increased the percentage of those members getting treatment for opioid use disorder receiving both treatments from 18 percent to 36 percent across most of its Medicaid, individual and employer-sponsored health plans. In some states, such as Virginia and Indiana, more than half those members in treatment received both counseling and drug therapy.
One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it has given health plan members a chance to explore telehealth, as many providers, like Groups Recover Together, have temporarily moved to online platforms to conduct counseling and group sessions. About 19-25 percent of those receiving medicated assisted treatment began to receive their counseling via telehealth, compared with about 1 percent before the pandemic. To offer more choice to those who either live in rural areas, have transportation hurdles or like the convenience of online therapy, for several years Anthem has been contracting with organizations, like BrightHeart Health and Kaden Health, that offer telehealth-only therapy, in many states.
Efforts like this came from a large group of Anthem medical directors, nurses, pharmacists, care managers and benefits experts have been working closely together over four years to re-examine policies and determine how Anthem affiliated health plans can do their part to help prevent addiction and provide greater access to care.
While our initial goals have been met, the work doesn’t stop here. We will continue doing our part to be leaders in behavioral health and make sure as many members as possible have access to both types of therapy as a piece of our overarching commitment to making changes that help reduce, prevent and deter opioid use disorder and advance recovery.