Insurance Coverage and Provision of Opioid Treatment: Evidence from Medicare

Opioid overdose deaths in older adults increased substantially over the past two decades. This increase occurred despite the availability of effective treatments. Methadone, one of three medications approved for opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment, was not covered by Medicare — the primary insurer of older Americans — for OUD until 2020. This study analyzes the response of opioid treatment programs (OTPs), the only healthcare providers that can dispense methadone for OUD in the U.S., to this policy change using administrative data and a difference-in-differences framework. It examines provider acceptance of Medicare payment and the number of treatment episodes, before and after the policy change, in OTPs relative to other substance use disorder treatment facilities. Our findings show a surge in Medicare acceptance by OTPs and an increase in the number of treatment episodes post-policy, signalling the importance of insurance for OUD treatment provision.