Expanded Medicare Coverage Fueled Rise in Use of Methadone to Treat Opioid Addiction

    A new study finds the use of methadone among Medicare patients to treat opioid use disorder rose sharply after the program began covering the treatment.

    In January 2020, Medicare expanded payment for treating opioid use disorder to include methadone. In March 2020, rules were adopted in response to the pandemic to make it easier to access medication treatment for opioid use disorder, including take-home methadone.

    Expanding Medicare coverage to include methadone in 2020 did not appear to reduce the use of the opioid addiction treatment buprenorphine, according to the researchers from the RAND Corporation.

    They analyzed data and pharmacy records for almost 10 million people enrolled in Medicare Advantage health plans, HealthDay reports. They found much of the increase in methadone use was among Medicare Advantage enrollees who were younger than 65 – especially among those who qualified for both Medicare and Medicaid.

    “These new policies represent an important step in increasing access to medication treatment for opioid use disorder for Medicare beneficiaries,” study lead author Erin Taylor said in a news release. “We found a relatively steady rate of increase in buprenorphine prescribing, which showed no obvious changes after coverage for methadone began. This suggests that there was little substituting of methadone for buprenorphine.”