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Use of in-network insurance benefits is critical for improving retention in telehealth-based buprenorphine treatment

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More than 100,000 annual overdose deaths are now attributed to the opioid and drug addiction crisis in the United States.

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Published on May 8, 2024

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This white paper represents the views of the author, not America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). The publication, distribution or posting of this white paper by AHIP does not constitute a guaranty of any product or service by AHIP.


An empiric evidence base is lacking regarding the relationship between insurance status, payment source, and outcomes among patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) on telehealth platforms. Such information gaps may lead to unintended impacts of policy changes. Following the phase- out of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, states were allowed to redetermine Medicaid eligibility and disenroll individuals. Yet, financial barriers remain a common and significant hurdle for patients with OUD and are associated with worse outcomes. We studied 3842 patients entering care in 2022 at Ophelia Health, one of the nation’s largest OUD telehealth companies, to assess associations between insurance status and 6-month retention. In multivariable analyses, in-network patients who could use insurance benefits were more likely to be retained compared with cash-pay patients (adjusted risk ratio [aRR]: 1.50; 95% CI: 1.40–1.62; P < .001). Among a subsample of 882 patients for whom more detailed insurance data were available (due to phased-in electronic health record updates), in-network patients were also more likely to be retained at 6 months compared with insured, yet out-of-network patients (aRR: 1.86; 95% CI: 1.54–2.23; P < .001). Findings show that insurance status, and specifically the use of in-network benefits, is associated with superior retention and suggest that Medicaid disenrollment and insurance plan hesitation to engage with telehealth providers may undermine the nation’s response to the opioid crisis.