Tranquilizers Approved Under Medicare, but at What Cost?

The year Medicare approved tranquilizer coverage, it spent an estimated $377 million on prescriptions for the drugs. While congress originally outlawed the coverage of these drugs, pressure from patients and medical societies caused the reversal of this law in 2013 under Medicare Part D.

Although these drugs were not covered until recently, it is evident that patients were simply finding other ways to pay for the prescriptions. For example, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin were among the most common prescribed medications in 2013.

As seniors represent the largest demographic on Medicare, the fact that they are on these tranquilizers is cause for concern among some health professionals. Although the drugs are fast-acting, they are habit-forming and have lasting effects in older users. The American Geriatrics Society discourages their use among seniors for symptoms such as insomnia, delirium, or agitation because of the risks involved. Instead, these tranquilizers are intended for use to treat seizures, end-of-life care, withdrawal, and severe anxiety.

Dr. Brent Forester, a geriatric psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, claimed that he doesn’t use tranquilizers, or benzodiazepines as a “first-, second- or third-line treatment because we see more of a downside than the good side.” Forester states that in reference to the wrongful, long-term use of tranquilizers as a replacement of anti-psychotics and to sedate patients.

What’s more, researchers recently found that the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease increased the longer the patient took benzodiazepines. Bear in mind, experts remind you that these drugs are meant to be taken for a short period of time, not long term.

Benzodiazepines were among the highest prescribed in Florida and Alabama with 158 and 136 doctors, respectively. Each doctor on the list represents a physician who wrote at least one thousand prescriptions of benzodiazepines. The combination of narcotics and these drugs can potentially be deadly.

As a new or seasoned Medicare patient, you likely have many questions about what your plan does or does not cover, and what updates will affect you. Please contact your licensed insurance agent at Omaha Insurance Solutions at (855) 367-3631 for answers to your pressing concerns.

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