Alexander Commends Health Secretary Burwell for Listening to Knoxville-Area Concerns about Epidemic of Painkiller Abuse

Says president’s announcement in West Virginia tomorrow will include review of patient satisfaction survey used by Medicare, highlighted by Knoxville officials at Alexander’s September roundtable

Posted on October 21, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 21 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today commended U.S. health department Secretary Sylvia Burwell for listening to Knoxville-area concerns about painkillers, following news that the president will announce tomorrow that he will review the patient satisfaction survey used by Medicare to see if it is a contributing factor to the overprescribing of painkilling opioid medicines.

“This is a direct response to the concern that State Representative Bill Dunn, law enforcement officials, doctors and community leaders in Knoxville had about whether the patient satisfaction survey actually encouraged the overprescribing of painkilling opioids. This is a health crisis that has reached epidemic proportions in our country, especially in Tennessee, that needs to be addressed at every level,” said Alexander, chairman of the Senate health committee. “I’m glad Secretary Burwell listened to the concerns of East Tennesseans and that this will be part of the president’s announcement in West Virginia tomorrow.” 

The president’s announcement in West Virginia tomorrow will specifically include a concern that Knoxville-area physicians, law enforcement officials and community leaders raised with Alexander on Sept. 4 in Knoxville at an opiate and prescription drug abuse roundtable with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alexander then raised the issue the following week with Secretary Burwell. Burwell told Alexander she would look into the issue and respond.

State Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and others in that roundtable told Alexander that the patient satisfaction survey for Medicare patients actually has the perverse effect of encouraging physicians to overprescribe painkilling opiates because reimbursements for hospitals are based to some extent upon the score that patients give doctors about how well they’re satisfied with their treatment. According to those in the roundtable, patients are unlikely to give doctors a high score unless they prescribe the maximum amount of painkilling opioids – and if doctors don’t get a high score, their Medicare reimbursement is reduced.

The CDC announced at the Sept. 4 Knoxville roundtable that Tennessee would receive $3.4 million over four years from the agency to help the state continue its work combatting prescription drug abuse and overdose. Tennessee is one of 16 states to receive funding under the agency’s Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention for States program.

Of the Sept. 4 announcement, Alexander said, “Tennessee has been working hard to fight this fast-growing drug problem, but we are losing more than a thousand Tennesseans a year to drug overdoses. This is an epidemic that cuts across all demographics, with about five percent of Tennesseans abusing prescription painkillers and the majority of those individuals getting drugs from a friend or relative.” Alexander said the money would be a “big boost” to Tennessee in its fight against prescription drug abuse. The state ranks third in the nation for prescription drug abuse and 12th in the nation for deaths resulting from drug overdose.

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