Nearly one in three seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D program was prescribed an opioid during 2016. This fact underlines just how pervasive opioids have become for seniors, who often are dealing with issues stemming from chronic pain. In New York’s 19th Congressional District, which I represent, almost half the population is eligible or nearing the age of eligibility for Medicare. We must ensure that seniors have access to better information about the dangers of opioids and potential alternatives.
For years, opioids have been used as popular treatments for all sorts of ailments, not limited to following surgeries to heal broken bones, but also for after surgeries to pull wisdom teeth or to treat chronic pain. In an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, it was found that more than half a million Medicare beneficiaries received opioid dosages that exceeded the amounts that the manufacturers recommend for these drugs, and also exceeded the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding for patients with chronic pain. These figures are unacceptable.
Earlier this month, the House considered over 50 bills to address the opioid crisis in the areas of prevention, education, enforcement and treatment. We must tackle every element of this problem and develop a wide range of solutions to protect our families and communities.
One of those proposals passed by the House is a bill that I introduced — H.R. 5685, the Medicare Opioid Safety Education Act of 2018. This bill will help better educate seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D program on the effects of opioid medications by updating the “Medicare& You” informational booklet. This booklet is given to every senior that is enrolling in the Medicare program. Currently, the word “opioid” is used just once in the booklet, which is woefully too little given the addictive nature of opioids and the ongoing nationwide opioid abuse crisis.
My legislation will fix this issue and improve the educational material in the “Medicare& You” booklet by including new information about not only the risks of opioids but also information regarding alternative treatments. This change will be an essential step forward in helping to make sure seniors and their doctors are able to thoroughly discuss treatment options and fully understand that there are alternatives to opioid medications.
While it may be a simple change, education is an irreplaceable aspect of prevention, and it is never too late to learn more about safe and sustainable treatment options. This new information will go a long way towards keeping seniors informed of all of their options and ensure they receive the high-quality care they both need and deserve.
• Rep. John J. Faso, New York Republican, serves on the House Agriculture Committee, House Budget Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
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