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Medicare Regularly Refills Pain Pills Without New Prescriptions: Government Report

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A new government report finds that Medicare routinely refills pain medications without new prescriptions that are required by federal law.

The report found 75 percent of contractors who processed prescriptions for the Medicare Part D program incorrectly refilled some drugs classified as Schedule II controlled substances. These include strong painkillers, as well as other drugs that are considered at high risk for abuse, according to the Associated Press.

Federal law prohibits the refilling of prescriptions for Schedule II drugs, which cannot be dispensed without a prescription that contains the name, address, and signature of the prescriber.

The incorrectly dispensed refills were worth $25 million in 2009, noted the report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General. ‘‘Paying for such drugs raises public health concerns and may contribute to the diverting of controlled substances and their being resold on the street,’’ the report stated.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services responded that the report mistakenly categorized partial ‘‘fills’’ dispensed to patients in long-term care facilities as refills. Partial fills occur when a pharmacist dispenses only part of a prescribed medication at one time. The report said it found little evidence of that, the AP noted.

The report concludes that almost 400,000 Schedule II prescriptions were wrongly refilled, representing about 2 percent of all Schedule II prescriptions billed under Medicare Part D in 2009. Of those wrongly refilled prescriptions, more than 25,000 were also missing some required information, such as the name, address or signature of the prescriber.

To cut down on improperly refilled Medicare prescriptions, the report recommends that federal health officials automatically flag requests for reimbursement for controlled drug refills, and refuse to pay them. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should work more closely with providers, and follow up with those who have a large number of refills, the report recommends. The agency responded that working with individual providers and pharmacies is not an efficient use of resources, the AP reported.

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