Tennessee's New Opioid Limits Result In Sizable State Budget Savings | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee's New Opioid Limits Result In Sizable State Budget Savings

Jan 30, 2019

Tennessee's new rules on prescribing opioids are resulting in substantial cash savings for the state. TennCare says it paid $15 million less last year because fewer painkiller prescriptions are being filled.

Essentially, the dollar signs show that new policies are working, says TennCare chief financial officer William Aaron.

"Because of our efforts to essentially control utilization of opioids, what we've seen is that the volume of opioids that are prescribed in the TennCare program has dropped significantly," Aaron said.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of painkiller prescriptions filled by the government insurance program dropped by more than half.

TennCare started tightening access to opioids even before state regulators took action last year, including a 5-day limit and forcing doctors more explicitly justify painkiller prescriptions.

These graphics, pulled from TennCare's annual controlled substance report, show that painkiller prescriptions were already dramatically reduced and then fell even further with the state's new limits, which are some of the most stringent in the country.
Credit courtesy TennCare

Most prescriptions statewide are now capped at three days' worth of pills under former Gov. Bill Haslam's TN Together response to the continued rise in overdose deaths.

But beyond those rules, TennCare will even force some of its 1.3 million patients to use a single pharmacy if they're caught trying to fill the same prescription at multiple places.

"We have been very involved, having limits in place for a while now," TennCare director Gabe Roberts says. "And the Tennessee Together legislation was another opportunity to review our benefit limits, align them as much as we can with that and continue to put some more limits in place."

Still, opioids remain in heavy use among TennCare beneficiaries. Even with the big drop, there were 400,000 prescriptions for powerful pain medication last year.

More: Download TennCare's 3-page annual controlled substances report