CWCI Analysis Estimates CURES Program Could Save $57 Million in Workers’ Comp Costs

As debate swirls about future funding for California’s $3.7 million a year Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), a new California Workers’ Compensation Institute study asserts that allowing 3rd party payer access to CURES would improve quality of care and strengthen utilization and cost control over opioid prescriptions dispensed to injured workers, which for accident year 2011 claims alone would cut California workers’ compensation claim costs by an estimated $57.2 million.

Excessive use of prescription painkillers has become a nationwide public health problem, and a huge cost driver in California workers’ compensation, where highly addictive “Schedule-II” narcotics such as oxycontin and fentanyl have been widely used, even for relatively minor sprain and strain injuries. In 2011, the Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted chronic pain management guidelines to help control the use of these drugs to treat injured workers, but they have continued to account for a growing proportion of workers’ compensation prescriptions. One tool California does have to combat prescription drug abuse is CURES, its 3-year old electronic prescription monitoring program run by the Department of Justice. CURES allows doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement to track the prescription history of patients receiving opioids to identify fraud and abuse patterns. Many workers’ compensation stakeholders assert that access to CURES data, coupled with enhanced medical cost containment strategies (including pharmacy benefit managers, medical provider network monitoring and utilization review) could significantly reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions dispensed to injured workers. However, since a $70 million cut in the Department of Justice budget was announced in late 2011, the state has struggled to come up with the $3.7 million a year needed to fund CURES.

Using data from prior studies and CWCI’s Industry Claims Information System database, authors Alex Swedlow and John Ireland estimate that 23 percent of the 500,000 California job injury claims in accident year 2011 involved opioid prescriptions. Though the Institute projects that access to CURES would generate no savings on the 41 percent of workers’ compensation opioid claims involving a single prescription, potential savings from reduced medical and indemnity payments on the 59 percent of the opioid claims involving multiple prescriptions would range between 3 to 7 percent – or $57.2 million on the accident year 2011 claims.

Debate over the funding of CURES continues, as Attorney General Kamala Harris this week urged Governor Brown to restore funding for the program in light of the state’s improving budget picture. In the meantime, the Institute has released its analysis in a white paper, “Estimated Savings from Enhanced Opioid Management Controls Through Third Party Payer Access to CURES.” The white paper is available in the Research section of the Institute’s website, www.cwci.org.