Johnson Praises Removing Link between Medicare Payments and Pain Management Questions

July 11, 2016 12:07 PM | Deleted user

July 6, Wisconsin Health News

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., lauded a proposal Wednesday from the Department of Health and Human Services to sever the connection between Medicare funding and pain management questions on a survey of consumers. 

HHS plans to remove the link between Medicare funding and pain management questions on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey.

Hospitals would continue to use the same questions in the survey, but those questions wouldn't affect the level of payment they received, HHS announced Tuesday.

Johnson introduced legislation earlier this year that would have made the federal government unable to tie reimbursement to pain outcome measures.

"Removing questions from payment calculations that could lead to inappropriate pressure on doctors is a bipartisan, commonsense solution to tackling the enormous challenges we face in the ongoing opioid epidemic," Johnson said in a statement. He called the proposal "the responsible thing to do."

Dr. Timothy Westlake, vice-chair of the state's Medical Examining Board called Johnson's bill "the single most important piece of federal legislative reform" at an April congressional field hearing in Pewaukee. 

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander, R- Tenn., called the HHS announcement a "big win for Senator Johnson, for the people of Wisconsin and for the country."

"These survey questions had the unintended consequence of actually encouraging the overprescribing of painkilling opioids," Alexander said in a statement. "I'm glad to see the administration correct this mistake by removing them from Medicare payment calculations."

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that they've heard from physicians that some have felt pressure to overprescribe opioids because of the questions. 

"While we haven't found evidence to support this concern, out of an abundance of caution, we have proposed a rule to change that," Burwell said on a conference call with reporters. 

HHS also released a request for information to seek provider, consumer and other public comments on current prescriber education and training programs on Tuesday.

Other federal agencies announced steps to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic as well. Indian Health Service will require its prescribers and pharmacists to check their state PDMP databases before prescribing any opioid for more than seven days. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs will also require prescribers in most cases to check state PDMPs before prescribing a new controlled substance.