The vast majority of residents receiving long-term care in nursing homes in our area participate in the New York Medicaid program. The program is a crucial state-federal effort that ensures seniors and the disabled have the access to life-saving, day-to-day care that they need. Recently, several influential federal officials have begun asking questions about one crucial aspect of the program: drug prescriptions. Essentially, the officials are focusing attention on the potentially excessive practices of some doctors in the program. The officials want to know if the alarmingly large amounts of drug prescriptions by some medical professionals are necessary (and safe) for the consumers who receive them.
Financial concerns are obviously involved in this particular investigation, but our New York Medicaid attorneys understand that this oversight can also be an important way to ensure that quality of care standards are met at these homes. For example, as discussed in a Pro Publica story published yesterday, many states, including New York, are being pressured to crack down on doctors who prescribe massive amounts of potentially dangerous drugs to seniors. The effort is being led by Senator Chuck Grassley who sent letters to three dozen states asking about efforts underway to investigate physicians who prescribed antipsychotic drugs and anti-anxiety painkillers with seemingly reckless abandon.
In the elder law context, these drugs have very real consequences for seniors. Nursing homes have long been known to provide antipsychotic medicine to residents for “off label” purposes in an effort to make the residents easier to control. However, recent studies have found that not only does this practice deprive seniors of the ability to be fully engaged in the world around them, but overmedication can be downright dangerous. There is actually a black box warning on antipsychotic medications explaining that use by a patient with dementia can lead to an increased risk of death. Yet, dementia patients still receive this medication in nursing homes across our area each day.
Now the Senator is hoping to crack down on the doctors who overprescribe these drugs. Unfortunately, a lot of work still needs to be done in this regard as most doctors face few punishments for prescribing large amounts of medications, even when they are unable to show that the prescription rates were necessary. Some doctors issued tens of thousands of prescriptions each year. For example, one physician wrote nearly 19,000 prescriptions for the antipsychotic drug Seroquel last year alone, totaling almost nine an hour for every hour of every workday.
In one bit of positive news, over the past few years New York was actually praised for cutting down on some of the most abusive practices. A few of the highest-prescribing physicians in our state who could not explain their actions have been kicked out of the Medicaid program–saving taxpayer dollars while keeping seniors safer.
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