New council will look at insurance data to analyze prescriptions for opioids

Gov. Chris Sununu smiles after signing an executive order creating the New Hampshire Opioid Overprescribing and Misuse Project Advisory Council. The council will look at insurance claims data to analyze prescribing patterns that could lead to substance use disorders. Behind the governor are, from left, John Barthelmes, commissioner of safety; Attorney General Gordon MacDonald; David Mara, the governor’s adviser on addiction and behavioral health; and Dr. Jay Schnitzer from MITRE, a data analytics company.

CONCORD — A new state advisory council will use New Hampshire insurance claims data to analyze prescribing patterns for opioids going back more than a decade, in an effort to prevent a future addiction crisis in the state.

Moments after Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order creating the New Hampshire Opioid Overprescribing and Misuse Project Advisory Council, the new group held its first meeting in the Executive Council chambers Thursday afternoon. “When you have one of the most serious public health crises to ever hit this state, every moment counts,” Sununu said.

David Mara, a former Manchester police chief who is now the governor’s adviser on addiction and behavioral health, chaired the meeting. The new council also includes leaders from the state boards of medicine and pharmacy, corrections and insurance departments, NH Hospital Association, NH Medical Society and NH Dental Society, and drug court; and top physicians from the state health department, Catholic Medical Center and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

The state is partnering with MITRE, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit data analytics company, to evaluate years of data collected from private and public insurers by the New Hampshire Insurance Department. Jennifer Patterson, director of health policy for the department, said the data  includes not only medical claims but also dental and pharmacy claims. The data will be de-identified so no personal information will be included, but each patient will have a unique ‘identifier” that allows them to be followed over time.

“You can see their entire health history; you just don’t know who they are,” Patterson said. “That’s an incredibly useful resource in understanding what has happened to people over time and in identifying patterns you might not otherwise have seen.”

Chris Teixeira, the project leader for MITRE, said his company’s data scientists have already begun looking at 15 years’ worth of insurance claims data, current through the second quarter of 2018. He acknowledged that the data is “sensitive,” and said the company has set up controls to safeguard the information even as it shares it with council members.

The claims information presented to the board will be aggregated, Teixeira said; individual physicians’ names will not be included.

Sununu said he hopes the data analysis will show “some of the red flags” of past prescribing patterns, with the goal of setting policy to avoid future missteps.

Lucy Hodder, a professor of law and director of health law and policy at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, said it’s important to look back at how the state got into this crisis. “It’s very easy to scapegoat, and I think we’re all at fault,” she said. “Any one of us in our different roles could have asked the question a little louder.”

“So how did we miss it and how do we use this process to figure out how we don’t miss the next issue that's sitting in front of our faces?” she asked.

The new advisory council will meet monthly; all meetings will be open to the public. An initial report is expected to be issued in November.

Jay Schnitzer, vice president and chief technology officer at MITRE, who also serves on the advisory council, said the New Hampshire project is a pilot that, if successful, could be used to help other states grappling with addiction crises of their own.

Beyond the Stigma, a series exploring solutions to the state’s addiction and mental health challenges, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire, and private individuals. Contact reporter Shawne K. Wickham at swickham@unionleader.com. To read previous stories in this series, visit: unionleader.com/stigma.