N.J.'s Pallone proposes restrictions to thwart prescription drug abuse through Medicare

New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D) said Monday he will introduce legislation to address problems of prescription drug abuse among Medicare’s Part D participants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a new report last week about the "skyrocketing" increase in prescription opioid painkiller abuse and overdose deaths among women, particularly middle-age and older women. But the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration has had several reports in recent years about the increase in misuse of the addictive opioid painkillers.

Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)

Unlike cocaine and heroin, opioid painkillers are manufactured legally by pharmaceutical companies, such as Chadds Ford-based Endo Health Solutions and Purdue Pharma. These drugs are controlled substances and the chemical names of the most common are oxycodone and hydrocodone. Purdue makes OxyContin and Endo makes Opana.

Medicare Part D is the prescription drug portion of the federal health insurance program that covers people age 65 and older, along with some people on disability and others with end-stage renal failure. The program provides discounts on drug costs.

In 2012, Medicare Part D cost taxpayers $66 billion, but the program is extremely popular with seniors, even those who argue the government spends too much money.

In the Republican-controlled House, Pallone is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, where such legislation would usually start, or at least pass.

Medicare contracts with private insurance companies to administer prescription drug plans. Pallone's proposal would increase the requirements for verifying the validity of prescriptions before Medicare reimburses for the cost of the drugs. The hope is that doctors who are writing prescriptions inappropriately would be caught sooner and patients collecting too many prescriptions (and drugs) would be stopped before hurting themselves (and costing taxpayers money).

Pallone statement noted that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General recently reported that Medicare is paying for prescription drugs prescribed by unauthorized individuals including massage therapists, athletic trainers, social workers and interpreters.

“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic,” Pallone said in a statement. “Millions of Americans benefit from Medicare’s drug coverage program each year, which is why it’s imperative that checks are in place to prevent fraud and abuse as well as to protect patients. We cannot allow Medicare’s prescription drug program to be compromised at taxpayer expense. My bill, the Part D Prescription Drug Integrity Act of 2013, will strengthen the Medicare law to help address potential factors contributing to prescription drug abuse.”