How to Fight Step Therapy

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

With opioid medication becoming harder and harder to obtain, I want to put out some reminders of other access to care issues that we have had for many years. These challenges can’t be overlooked as we combat the fake news media on the opioid crisis and the lack of news coverage of the chronic pain epidemic.

Health insurance companies often find ways to delay or deny pain care, using step therapy, prior authorization, medication claw back, and poorly run clinical trials to keep their own costs down.

Step therapy is a tool that insurers use to control spending by requiring patients to try certain medications first before using more expensive drugs to treat whatever ails them. These “fail first” requirements mostly affect the care of chronically ill patients. Studies show that nearly 60% of commercial insurance companies use some form of step therapy. And three out of four large companies offer employees insurance plans that use step therapy practices.

Requiring patients to try less effective medication delays access to the best treatment and allows some diseases to progress. This lack of proper and timely care denies patients the drugs they need when they need them, and allows insurance companies to practice medicine without a license.

Many patients can’t afford to wait or forgo needed medications. As these patients physically deteriorate, it only adds to future healthcare costs and increases the risk of non-compliance and self-medication.


Currently there are laws protecting patients from step therapy in over a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Washington and West Virginia. But even in these states, there are often holes in the law that need to be addressed. In California, for example, the law only relates to fail first exceptions and uniform prior authorization forms.

Various groups such as the New Mexico Fail First Awareness Coalition, Minnesota Coalition on Step Therapy, Illinois Pain Alliance, Indiana Pain Alliance, International Pain Foundation, Kansas Affordable Access to Medication Coalition and others are working on pending legislation to stop step therapy practices in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

There is also a step therapy bill in Congress sponsored by Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio called the “Restoring the Patient’s Voice Act of 2017.” It requires insurers to have a clear and speedy process for patients to request an exception to the step therapy protocol.  In cases where the life and health of a patient are jeopardized by step therapy, the request must be granted no later than 24 hours after it is received.

For all of these state and federal efforts, the pain community needs patients to share their stories of how insurance practices have harmed them or denied them medication that is helpful.

What can you do? If you have already experienced step therapy and found it delayed your care, I suggest you speak out about the impact it has had on you. Talk to your congressional representatives and let them know how it has affected you.

An easy way to do this advocacy work is to call 1-844-872-0234 and wait for the automated message. Press 1 and enter your 5-digit zip-code. This will connect you to the office of a U.S. senator for your state. After the call concludes, it will automatically connect you to your other senator and then your representative in the House. Sometimes a live person will answer or you could be instructed to leave a message.

Craft a personalized message, such as “Good morning. My name is (name), and I am a constituent from (city, state). I am a chronic pain (patient, caregiver, family member or provider). I am asking for your support to help the pain community by supporting step therapy legislation for people in pain living in our state. Thank you.”

It is a simple way to become an advocate and make a difference. I hope that you will find it in you to be a cheerleader of hope, and fight for access to proper and timely care for yourself and others in the pain community.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.