Dr Manny's Notes

Medicare Reform Needed to Prevent Drug Abuse

If we're going to fix the health care system in America, we have to reform Medicare and Medicaid.

Listen, if it were my choice, Medicare would be around for the next 100 years, but this simply isn't feasible unless we begin to take a closer look at the way Medicare operates and make some necessary changes.

Take, for example, the story circulating Tuesday about drug abusers exploiting the system to score, in some cases, thousands of prescription pills. One Medicare recipient was able to get prescriptions for 3,655 oxycodone pills from 58 different prescribers - and this isn't an isolated, or even rare, case.

A recent government report estimates about 170,000 Medicare recipients received prescriptions from multiple doctors for 14 frequently abused medications in 2008.

Doctor shopping is a huge problem, especially among young patients that are trying to beat the system. Prescription drug abuse, particularly the abuse of narcotics, is out of control.

We need to have limits, as well as checks and balances, for these narcotic prescriptions that are paid for by the Medicaid/Medicare system.

A Medicare spokesman said in a statement that the organization has recognized the problem and is looking for ways to prevent this abuse in the future.

I'd like to give them a few tips:

- Limit the number of narcotic prescriptions per patient

- Monitor the total quantity of narcotic pills that are given to each patients per year

- Make narcotic prescriptions data available to physicians so that they know if patients are going to other doctors

- And finally, if there is a need for persistent use of narcotics after a certain period of time, two physicians should sign off on the prescription.

Now, I know that these measures might sound draconian to some of you. I'd like to hear what you would suggest.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.