Medicare Drug Program Fails to Monitor Prescription Safety

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Medicare recipient shops for medicine (photo: Seth Perlman, AP)

Medicare patients now enjoy greater access to prescription drugs under a plan adopted during the George W. Bush administration. But at the same time that federal officials expanded the availability of many types of medications, they also failed to ensure the safety of elderly and disabled patients utilizing the program, known as Part D.


An investigation by ProPublica found that under Part D, some doctors and other health professionals prescribed large amounts of drugs that can be harmful, addictive or disorienting—while the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) did little to detect or stop these practices.


In one case, a Miami psychiatrist gave hundreds of elderly dementia patients the same antipsychotic drug that comes with the government’s “black box” warning that it increases the risk of death. A doctor in Oklahoma regularly prescribed Namenda, intended for Alzheimer’s patients, to people as young as 12 who have autism.


CMS officials said they are not responsible for monitoring prescription practices, claiming that duty must be handled by private health insurance plans.


However, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly criticized CMS for not policing Part D.


John Eadie, director of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University, told ProPublica that CMS’ approach was putting “patients at risk.”


“For Medicare to just turn a blind eye and refuse to look at data in front of them…it’s just beyond comprehension,” Eadie said.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Medicare Drug Program Fails to Monitor Prescribers, Putting Seniors and Disabled at Risk (by Tracy Weber, Charles Ornstein and Jennifer LaFleur; ProPublica and Washington Post)

How We Analyzed Medicare’s Drug Data (by Jennifer LaFleur, Tracy Weber, Charles Ornstein and Jeff Larson; ProPublica and Washington Post)

Drug Industry Whines about Losing Small Percentage of Profits from Medicare (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Quota-Driven Pharmacies Refill Prescriptions without Patient Oks (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)   

Why Does it Take 10 Years to Close the Medicare Drug “Doughnut Hole”? (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)  


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