Opioid crisis to explode

Proposed changes to the federal government’s Private Health Insurance (PHI) policy have reignited concerns over Australia’s opioid epidemic, with people to be denied access to pain management treatments unless they hold the top-tier ‘gold’ policy.

This comes in the light of:

  • Opioid-related deaths now exceeding heroin deaths by 2.5 times.
  • Around one in three patients prescribed strong opioids for chronic pain misusing them.
  • Up to 12 per cent of these patients developing a strong opioid-use disorder.

The Neuromodulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (NSANZ) is concerned that these numbers will skyrocket should patients be forced to upgrade or miss out on pain-management treatments with devices, under the PHI policy changes.

According to Dr Marc Russo, pain medicine specialist physician and NSANZ Director-at-large, Newcastle, patients living with chronic pain have voiced their frustration with their inability to access effective pain relief, and the devastating sociological burden this has placed on their lives.

“Chronic pain insurance reimbursements accounted for less than one per cent of the $19.8 billion total premium reimbursements paid last financial year,” he said.

“As such, there are no major savings to be made from excluding any chronic-pain treatment, including devices, from ‘bronze’ and ‘silver’ PHI policies.”

The government’s proposed changes are likely to substantially increase demands on the already-strained and under-resourced public health system managing chronic-pain patients, he said.

The changes would also result in a significant blow-out of public waiting lists for chronic-pain services, he added.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said in July: “We take the existing policies, no change in price, no change in coverage, but we make it simpler so as everybody can see in one page exactly what is in place.”

NSANZ is calling for the government to make good on this promise and guarantee that all existing procedures for pain management, including devices, be made available in bronze, silver and gold policies.

To learn more, or to sign the chronic-pain petition, visit: www.accessforpain.com.au

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