By William Murphy

The health care insurer Cigna has ended its policy of requiring prior authorization before its clients can get medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Friday.

"Pre-authorization requirements can lead to delays -- sometimes significant -- in patients obtaining treatment for addiction," Schneiderman said in a news release.

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, involves the prescription or dispensing of certain medications by a doctor certified in their use. MAT medications usually contain buprenorphine and naloxone.

Schneiderman said that "when prescribed and monitored properly," MAT has been "effective in helping patients recover from opioid use disorder, and is both safe and cost-effective to reduce the risk of overdose."

The state recently enacted legislation barring insurers from requiring pre-authorization for emergency supplies of MAT, and the federal government has increased the number of patients a doctor can treat at one time, Schneiderman said.

Cigna said in a statement that opioid abuse "has taken a terrible toll in America, which is why Cigna is committed to reducing opioid use among our customers by 25 percent in three years.

"As part of comprehensive efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, under our commercial plans we have agreed to voluntarily remove prior authorization from all medications used in Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. This will help make it easier for our customers to access coverage for the medications they need," the statement said.

(c)2016 Newsday