Bill aims to curb narcotics abuse among Medicare recipients
February 24, 2016 12:00 AM
U. S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa)
By Tracie Mauriello / Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Older patients who get narcotics prescriptions from more than one doctor or who fill them at more than one pharmacy soon could have to streamline.
As part of an effort to prevent opioid abuse, lawmakers are teeing up legislation that would limit Medicare Part D beneficiaries to a single pharmacy and a single provider for narcotics.
Medicaid beneficiaries already are subject to those limitations.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he plans to call a committee vote soon.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Sens. As primary co-sponsors, Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also have been shepherding it through Congress.
“It works in Medicaid and it certainly should be in the Medicare program as well,” Mr. Portman said during a Finance Committee hearing Tuesday.
The bill is aimed at reducing overprescribing and pill diversion, Mr. Toomey said, pointing out a recent study by the Government Accountability Office.
“The GAO estimates that 170,000 Medicare enrollees have engaged in doctor shopping, where they go to multiple doctors who then typically unknowingly write duplicative prescriptions that are then filled at multiple pharmacies for the very same painkiller,” Mr. Toomey said. “It’s an easy way for people to find commercial-scale quantities of opioids which they can then sell on the black market.”
He said the bill would also help patients who are “innocently getting duplicative opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors and pharmacies because there is insufficient coordination of their care, but that can lead to very, very bad health outcomes, including death, for these innocent seniors.”
Under the Toomey-Portman bill, patients would choose their doctor and pharmacy, and there would be exemptions for chronically ill patients such as those in hospice care. There are also provisions to allow patients to change pharmacies.
There were no objections to the legislation during the hearing, although several Democrats said they want to see much more done. Namely, they want Congress to increase spending for addiction services.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said access to treatment will be even more important if the Toomey-Portman bill makes access to opioids more difficult. That’s because opioids sell for upward of $50 per pill on the street, and heroin is much cheaper and more deadly.
If the waiting list for treatment is too long, drug users will be put on a destructive course, Mr. Menendez said.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s ranking Democrat, agreed.
“When you do the lock-in — when you actively restrict access to opioids — it is absolutely critical that you step up treatment because everybody in health care is telling us the addiction is not automatically going away,” Mr. Wyden said.
“What’s needed is a fresh approach that focuses on three areas: better prevention, better treatment, and better and tougher enforcement,” he said.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
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