WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), John Thune (R-SD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee that would ensure health care providers better engage with Medicare patients about pain management and addiction risks. One in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries received a prescription opioid in 2016.
The Comprehensive Screenings for Seniors Act would ensure doctors, nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers discuss addiction risks with patients during annual wellness visits, the same way they would discuss diabetes and other health conditions.
“Encouraging doctors to have honest conversations with patients about pain management and addiction is critical to combatting the opioid epidemic. Medicare patients deserve to know their risks and have access to all the alternative pain management tools available,” said Brown.
“We are tackling the opioid crisis using a multi-pronged approach to help more Americans get help for their addiction and to prevent addiction in the first place,” said Isakson. “The Comprehensive Screenings for Seniors Act would help doctors to identify patients who may have a predisposition for substance abuse, to better understand the full scope of medications their patients may be using, to identify addiction problems sooner, and to better understand the pain their patients are facing. We need to allow doctors to do what they do best and help their patients manage and overcome pain wherever possible.”
“Enabling doctors to have open conversations with their patients about addiction and pain management is just one more step we can take to combat the opioid crisis. This bill will help identify those who need substance abuse treatment so they get the care they need sooner rather than later,” said Nelson.
“Addiction can affect people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and from communities large and small,” said Thune. “That's why I'm glad to join this bipartisan effort that would give America's seniors more information about the options and resources that are available to them if they, too, need help battling addiction.”
“As the opioid crisis ravages communities, no age group has been spared - including our seniors. Our bipartisan legislation would help tackle substance abuse disorders among older Americans by encouraging Medicare providers to engage their patients in honest conversations about pain management, the risks of addiction, and how to access care when it’s needed,” said Blumenthal.
“The best way to beat addiction is to prevent it,” said Dr. Cassidy. “As a doctor, I know a strong patient-physician relationship is important to ensure the best care. Reducing the risk of addiction and using alternative methods of pain management are important parts of our ‘do everything’ response to this crisis.”
According to the HHS Office of the Inspector General, one third of Medicare Part D beneficiaries received at least one prescription for an opioid in 2016, and approximately 500,000 Medicare beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids that same year – the equivalent of taking more than 12 tablets of 10mg Vicodin a day. In addition to the risk of addiction and diversion, opioids have several side effects that can be particularly dangerous for older individuals, including respiratory depression, confusion, and the increased likelihood of falls and/or fractures. The Comprehensive Screenings for Seniors Act will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries who are at risk of addiction are identified and connected with the resources necessary to prevent addiction and find an alternative mechanism for pain management.
Medicare provides a “Welcome to Medicare” visit for new beneficiaries and annual wellness visits for all recipients. Seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicare benefits are screened for a variety of possible conditions during those visits – from diabetes to depression.