White House Issues Memorandum on Opioid Abuse Epidemic

The White House released a memorandum outlining steps to curb prescription drug and heroin abuse last week. Federal agencies will be required to train providers who work for government agencies that deliver health care on how to properly prescribe opioid medications in order to reduce overprescribing practices. Agencies will also be required to identify and address barriers to the access of medication-assisted treatment for those with drug addictions. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will review how pain management is evaluated through patient satisfaction surveys used by Medicare. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will continue its National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day program in the coming year, which provides patients a safe way to dispose of their unused prescription medications. While Congress has been examining the issue of prescription drug abuse through a series of hearings, a legislative solution has yet to be agreed upon. But the White House’s announcement drew praise from members of congress from both sides of the aisle. The administration hopes that private providers will use the measures as a model for their own sector. More than 40 health care groups have already pledged to implement opioid prescriber training, and to double the number of providers that can prescribe naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and buprenorphine, an opioid use disorder drug, over the next three years. Media companies have also pledged to contribute ad space for public service announcements on prescription drug abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is currently working on guidelines to reduce opioid overprescribing, deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, and more people now die from drug overdoses than from car accidents every year.

Number of Medical School Students Increases

The number of students enrolled in medical school has reached an all time high, according to new data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Enrollment in medical school has risen 25 percent since 2002. This fall, 20,630 students will be enrolled in medical school. The diversity of the student population also increased in 2015, with increasing enrollment in nearly every racial and ethnic category. AAMC noted that these overall enrollment increases have taken place while federal funding for graduate medical education has essentially remained frozen for nearly two decades. Physician shortages could result should students be unable to complete residency-training programs following graduation from medical school.

Democrats Urge CMS to Pay for End of Life Discussions

Ten Democratic members of the House of Representatives have written to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) urging the administration to allow the Medicare program to pay for end of life discussions. The lawmakers call on CMS to finalize a provision in its 2016 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) proposed rule to include advance care planning (ACP) codes, which would reimburse doctors for conversing with patients about the medical care they receive at the end of life. “All individuals should have the opportunity to participate actively in their health care decision-making, yet most people lack knowledge about end of life care choices,” the letter says. “Recognizing that these choices can be very difficult to make, and that choices and options could change over time, patients and families must have the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with providers throughout the care continuum.” The letter was signed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), John B. Larson (D-Conn.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), and Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.).

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