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How a Simple Fix to Reduce Aberrant Prescribing Became Not So Simple

By ProPublica  
   February 10, 2017

The government is still covering prescriptions written by doctors who have been kicked out of Medicare and even some who have pleaded guilty to crimes.

This article first appeared February 10, 2017 on ProPublica.

By Charles Ornstein

This story was co-published with NPR's Shots blog.

Back in 2014, federal officials settled on what they thought would be a straightforward fix to curb abusive pill pushing: Require doctors and other health providers to register with the Medicare program in order to prescribe medications for beneficiaries.

That way, the government could screen them and take action if their prescribing habits were deemed improper. Officials figured the modest change would barely ruffle the medical community: Doctors already had to fill out an application, have their credentials verified and enroll to get paid by Medicare for seeing patients, after all.

But this fix, which followed a 2013 ProPublica investigation into questionable prescribing in Medicare, has yet to be implemented. The government now says it needs until 2019 to put it in place — 3 1/2 years longer than initially expected.

"It has definitely been much more challenging" than anticipated, said Jonathan Morse, acting director of the Center for Program Integrity within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs Medicare.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.


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