Cover: Trends in Methadone Dispensing for Opioid Use Disorder After Medicare Payment Policy Changes

Trends in Methadone Dispensing for Opioid Use Disorder After Medicare Payment Policy Changes

Published in: JAMA Network Open, Volume 6, Issue 5 (2023) e2314328. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.14328

Posted on Jun 2, 2023

by Erin Audrey Taylor, Jonathan H. Cantor, Ashley C. Bradford, Kosali Ilayperuma Simon, Bradley D. Stein


A significant proportion of Medicare beneficiaries have a diagnosed opioid use disorder (OUD). Methadone and buprenorphine are both effective medications for the treatment of OUD (MOUDs); however, Medicare did not cover methadone until 2020.


To examine trends in methadone and buprenorphine dispensing among Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollees after 2 policy changes in 2020 related to methadone access.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This cross-sectional analysis of temporal trends in methadone and buprenorphine treatment dispensing assessed MA beneficiary claims from January 1, 2019, through March 31, 2022, captured by Optum's Clinformatics Data Mart. Of 9,870,791 MA enrollees included in the database, 39,252 had at least 1 claim for methadone, buprenorphine, or both during the study period. All available MA enrollees were included. Subanalyses by age and dual eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid status were conducted.


Study exposures were (1) the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare bundled payment reimbursement policy for OUD treatment and (2) the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration and CMS Medicare policies designed to facilitate access to treatment for OUD, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Study outcomes were trends in methadone and buprenorphine dispensing by beneficiary characteristics. National methadone and buprenorphine dispensing rates were calculated as claims-based dispensing rates per 1000 MA enrollees.


Among the 39,252 MA enrollees with at least 1 MOUD dispensing claim (mean age, 58.6 [95% CI, 58.57-58.62] years; 45.9% female), 195,196 methadone claims and 540,564 buprenorphine pharmacy claims were identified, for a total of 735,760 dispensing claims. The methadone dispensing rate for MA enrollees was 0 in 2019 because the policy did not allow any payment until 2020. Claims rates per 1000 MA enrollees were low initially, increasing from 0.98 in the first quarter of 2020 to 4.71 in the first quarter of 2022. Increases were primarily associated with dually eligible beneficiaries and beneficiaries younger than 65 years. National buprenorphine dispensing rates were 4.64 per 1000 enrollees in quarter 1 of 2019, increasing to 7.45 per 1000 enrollees in quarter 1 of 2022.

Conclusions and Relevance

This cross-sectional study found that methadone dispensing increased among Medicare beneficiaries after the policy changes. Rates of buprenorphine dispensing did not provide evidence that beneficiaries substituted buprenorphine for methadone. The 2 new CMS policies represent an important first step in increasing access to MOUD treatment for Medicare beneficiaries.

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