Insurance is denying payment for opioid medication unless the patient agrees to attend a drug program. A California chronic pain patient with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy told me of her experience. She wants others to be aware that this could happen to them. The patient was fortunate to be able to pay for her medication/ She said “Poor people are screwed! If I wouldn’t have had the money, I’d be without meds”. This seems to be a rising problem. The issue of prescription drug abuse is an important one and is being addressed. This patient has no history with abuse. It would be important to address this if she was a previous addict or if an issue developed during the course of treatment, but I find it disconcerting that she not be entitled to coverage unless she agrees. This brings me to another point. Will it be clearly noted in the record that the patient was not misusing or abusing prescription medication when referred to the program. It is important that it be made clear and precise because otherwise as the medical record follows her it could simply be said that a drug diversion or drug rehabilitation program was attended leading another doctor or pharmacist to the belief the person is an addict.
These are important questions and they cannot be ignored. There is a problem with file management that already exists. Previous medications aren’t removed from the record and for other patients that leave one State to find a Physician in another it appears they are still on narcotics they were no longer taking. With the development of the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) and the California Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) healthcare providers who are eligible to prescribe controlled substances, pharmacists authorized to dispense, law enforcement, and regulatory boards are able to access patients controlled substance history.
These are tools that assist in learning information about a patient, but if information is not entered in correctly can also do harm. A little example, my husband was at his appointment recently and was asked if his medications had changed. This appointment was with his heart specialist. We had let the assistant know that his Gabapentin which he takes for Diabetic Neuropathy had been altered. She did right by asking but it didn’t make it into the record. An oversight. What if the medication was an analgesic opioid that was no longer being taken? Human error. No one would know it was no longer being taken. The assumption if a patient needed to be treated with a narcotic might be that they were drug seeking. Especially if other medications weren’t removed as well. Fortunately it wasn’t a major error. Unfortunately for someone else it could have been. Information still has to be entered accurately and people do make mistakes. Others simply don’t care enough to make sure it’s right.
Another example, an emergency room visit for an injury to the body. When the report was available it read, Alcohol Intoxication, as the reason for the visit. While the patient was intoxicated the only reason for the visit was to control bleeding, severe soft tissue damage requiring x-rays, and soft casting. While it should have been noted that the person was intoxicated it should not have been listed as the primary reason for the visit. This leads other physicians and emergency room personal who are only viewing the first part of the record to misconceptions which can adversely affect a patient in a new situation. They don’t have enough time in triage to look further, nor are most interested.
Patients need to become more assertive. Most of us feel that we are doing something wrong if we ask too many questions or if we demand a change. We have to take a more active role in our own care and lack thereof. We now have access to many of our own records for review in online patient centers. We can even communicate with our physicians.
If we don’t play an active role in our own care, records management and pain management, we will continue to be the scapegoat for other peoples errors. Lets review. A patient being required to enter a drug program in order to receive medication through her insurance. Another patient whose medication wasn’t updated and another whose reason for an emergency room visit wasn’t accurate.
There are hundreds of other stories that have been shared with me that just don’t add up. It all has more to do with the businesses involved than it does with any of us. For an insurance company to tell a patient they will only cover her medication if she completes a drug program, when she isn’t an addict, leads me to believe there is something in it for them, even if it’s to fulfill and obligation. An incentive. Patients are made to feel like they are abusers and addicts. This is wrong. For the small percentage that might be, it still wouldn’t be right to treat them poorly. These are the ones that would need help and to be assessed accordingly. I do know of legislation in the works that if a patient is on an opioid for 3 months or longer a drug program would be required to continue the medication.