May 30th, 2017

Cooperation In Maryland On The Opioid Crisis

On May 25, I had the honor to be present for the signing by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan of a bill prohibiting prior authorization by health insurance companies for medications used in the treatment of opioid addiction. Prior authorization created burdensome red tape, delays in treatment, and in some cases a dangerous interruption of treatment. Maryland is the first state to pass such a focused law.

It may have been a coincidence, but of the 200 bills signed that day, the first one related to opioid addiction. After so many years of seeing addiction being relegated to the end of the line, being first was a welcome change. Unfortunately, opioid use might not have reached the critical stage if it had been given more attention earlier.

The bill was one of several relating to opioid addiction that the Republican governor signed, and it represented a collaborative effort between himself, the Democratically controlled legislature, and the Maryland medical community.

This was my first venture into the legislative arena, and the productivity I witnessed presented a stark contrast to the gridlock and polarization that has characterized national efforts. The new laws rest on foundations such as evidence rather than ideology, mutual respect, and compromise. For example, the insurance companies had originally opposed the bill banning prior authorization but ultimately supported it after discussions led to changes that were acceptable to all parties.

Seeing the Republican Governor interacting cordially with the Senate President, a Democrat, reminded me of times when cooperation was common on the national level.  And it left me thinking about how much could be accomplished if we can return to such a political environment. Apparently small changes, such as the elimination of an unnecessary administrative process, can not only remove a nuisance but actually save lives.

At my request, Governor Hogan gave me the pen that he had used to sign the bill into law. I plan to keep it on my desk as a reminder of what can be accomplished if interested parties can settle their differences and work together.

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