Medicare Part D – Who Is Watching the Henhouse?

Medicare MontageOctober through December 7th is the time of year when patients should be re-evaluating their Medicare Part D Drug Plan and their private insurance options.  Medicare patients are encouraged to log on to www.medicare.gov and access prescription drug plans. They are asked to enter their Medicare identification number, zip code, name and then their prescription medications. The computer will then find them the most cost effective drug plan in their area for their medication needs. 

This process is so important that I always remind my patients about it in our practice quarterly newsletter and offer to perform the service for those patients who are not computer literate or who just do not get it. It is additionally the time of year when patients begin to receive notification that some of the medications covered on their Medicare Part D Prescription Plan formulary, or on their private plans, will not be covered the next year and they will need to change. 

This is not a particularly difficult action for younger healthier patients taking few prescription drugs but it does become challenging for the elderly on multiple medications for many chronic diseases and problems. There is no organization or government office supervising or monitoring this process and it can lead to problems. Take the example of TJ, an 84 year old woman with long term sleep problems, coronary artery disease, intermittent congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure , elevated cholesterol, spinal stenosis, diffuse osteoarthritis and age appropriate short term memory loss. After seeing a neurologist she has been placed on temazepam 15 mg one half tablet at bedtime as needed for sleep. She purchased a Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan through AARP because of her trust in that organization.  They contract with United Healthcare to provide the Medicare Part D Drug Insurance Plan. 

In 2013 a 30 day supply of temazepam cost the patient $10 per month. The notice says that in 2014 that same medication will cost the patient $85/month if she buys the generic version or $95 per month if she wishes to purchase the brand name version. Her AARP United Healthcare is suggesting that in 2014 she switch from temazepam to trazodone.  Trazodone will only cost her $7 per month for the generic version. Trazodone is an antidepressant drug which was found to be sedating and has now obtained permission to be used for insomnia.  In my humble opinion comparing one half of a 15 mg temazepam to 50 mg of trazodone for sleep is like comparing a small ceremonial glass of wine consumed at a religious service to snorting a few lines of cocaine (a stimulant), and then taking a few shots of vodka to slow the shakes of your hands before you go out and drive carpool.

Our small office caught this error in judgment and prevented the change. We wonder who exactly at the drug plan considered the difference in medications in this senior citizen and approved this?  How much money, favors or gifts exchanged hands at the purchasing and corporate level to negotiate this change in formulary.  If this patient was in a larger practice with little oversight would this change in medications been handled and approved by non-medical staff with no questions asked? 

Patients who put their trust and faith in AARP deserve better oversight and regulation.  This is one case but how many thousands more are slipping through in the name of greed and corporate profits?

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