Christie, Lawmakers Moving Fast On Aggressive Bill To Tackle N.J. Addiction Crisis

TRENTON -- Far-reaching legislation Gov. Chris Christie outlined in his State of the State address that would prevent opioid addiction and reduce economic barriers to inpatient drug treatment is expected to get a hearing as early as next week, one of the prime sponsors of the bill confirmed late Monday.

Though still in the draft stage, the aggressive bill requires insurance companies to admit addicts without delay into an inpatient treatment program regardless of their ability to pay, for a maximum of six months, according to Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), one of bill's prime sponsors.

The bill also contains a provision that requires physicians to limit an initial prescription of opioid painkillers to no more than five days. Physicians may write a longer prescription after completing an evaluation of the patient's condition.

Christie, in his Jan. 11 speech, said he wanted the Democrat-controlled legislature to pass the insurance bill within 30 days, while ordering Attorney General Christopher Porrino to quickly adopt rules limits opioid prescriptions.

The bill will also contain the prescription limits, which the Medical Society of New Jersey has called "cruel" to patients who need the medicine.

"When a person who is in the throes of a deadly drug addiction realizes he or she needs help, they should not be blocked at the treatment center doors because their insurance carrier requires a prior evaluation that could take weeks to complete," Christie said in a statement late Monday announcing the pending legislation.

"Their lives hang in the balance; they cannot wait, which is why I am expediting the legislative process by delivering a draft bill to legislators who are eager to introduce it."

Also sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) the bill requires:

  • insurance companies to provide up to 28 days of doctor-recommended inpatient or outpatient treatment without prior authorization;
  • Insurance companies to decide whether inpatient or outpatient care in excess of 28 days is required before the initial 28-day period expires. The patient may file an appeal if denied an extension.
  • Patients to pay no more than what their insurance policy requires in deductible costs, co-pays and co-insurance;
  • Insurance companies to cover medication-assisted treatments - a growing category of drugs that block the body's addiction;
  • Doctors to write an initial prescription of no more than five days of opioids for pain;
  • Doctors discuss the danger of opioid addiction with the patient, or the minor patient's parent or guardian.

"The bill addresses the epidemic from a few different vantage points - prevention elements, patient education about the dangers of opioids, limits on the providers because this is where the addiction often starts, the length of prescriptions," Vitale said.

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