Point to any instance of drug abuse or addiction, and someone has to pay for the consequences. Law enforcement, addiction recovery centers and counselors are necessary but don’t come cheap. So Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Tuesday that New York state will file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors to recoup at least some of the cost of higher health insurance premiums caused by the opioid crisis is an excellent move.
The lawsuit, brought by the state Department of Financial Services, alleges that the pharmaceutical companies defrauded health insurance companies. Such alleged fraud, said Superintendent of Financial Services Linda Lacewell, cost New York consumers $2 billion in higher health insurance rates.
Fraudulent or not — which a court will decide — the pharmaceutical companies set off a relentless daisy chain. Health insurance companies paid for these legal prescriptions of painkillers. Then they paid for the refills of the prescription. Next comes the emergency room visit when the person overdoses. Then it is the rehabilitation facility when the person, now an addict, enters treatment.
The Department of Financial Services is conducting an investigation into the alleged fraud and hearings are being held across the state. The lawsuit will be filed when the investigation and hearings are completed.
The lawsuit will name opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy benefit managers as defendants. In the past, former lawsuits have not typically targeted pharmacy benefit managers, who are the intermediaries between opioid manufacturers and health care providers and insurers.
In 2017 and 2018, Columbia and Greene counties, combined, saw 50 deaths, 155 emergency room visits and 23 hospitalizations due to opioid overdoses, according to the state Department of Health. As a whole, New York had more than 1,700 deaths caused by opioid overdoses in 2018.
Soaring health care costs and health insurance premiums are bankrupting consumers and eroding trust in the state’s health care system. It’s time for New York to stand tough and definitively address the costly and deadly cycle of prescription drug addiction.