How We Can Stop Medicare’s ‘Big Brother’ Opioid Policy

By Rick Martin, Guest Columnist

How many readers who leave comments on PNN are doing more than just commenting?

Change takes work if the pain community is going to stop the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from making the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines mandatory for millions of Medicare patients, including a ban on daily doses higher than 90 mg morphine equivalent (see “Medicare Planning to Adopt CDC Opioid Guidelines”).

We don’t need CMS and the insurance industry dictating what medication a physician can prescribe for pain or the appropriate amount of medication needed (see "Insurers Behind Medicare's 'Big Brother' Opioid Policy").

In my opinion, this is what needs to be done:

We have to start a chain letter.

I propose a form letter that everyone can copy and paste, forward, fax and mail to friends, family, caregivers, bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, and any other viable means of communication.  

You have to send it to at least 10 people. And ask them to send it to 10 people they know.

The letter also needs to be sent to patient advocacy groups like the U.S. Pain Foundation, American Chronic Pain Association, International Pain Foundation and the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management, a coalition of advocacy groups. They can post it in their newsletters and alert their members to what CMS is doing. This is the only way to reach a huge amount of people in a short amount of time. 

Here are their email addresses:

We need to rein in CMS from dictating how we should live and the ability of our physicians to treat us. It won’t be easy. It took me 27 letters to the CDC to get a response from Dr. Debra Houry, who helped draft the agency’s guidelines.  

CMS is only accepting emailed public comments to their proposal until March 3, 2017. They will publish the final rules on April 3, so there is not much time. We must all act NOW.

Here is what I am emailing to CMS at this email address:

To Whom It May Concern:

I oppose the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ plan to align its policies with the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

The CDC guideline is voluntary and gives physicians discretion in determining what is right for their patients. However, your policy as presently drafted will make the guidelines mandatory for all doctors, patients and pharmacists, and impose a ceiling on the highest dose of opioids that can be prescribed. That was never the CDC’s intent. 

On June 1, 2016, Dr. Debra Houry, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention
and Control, wrote the following:

“The Guideline is a set of voluntary recommendations intended to guide primary care providers as they work in consultation with their patients to address chronic pain. Specifically, the Guideline includes a recommendation to taper or reduce dosage only when patient harm outweighs patient benefit of opioid therapy. The Guideline is not a rule, regulation, or law. It is not intended to deny access to opioid pain medication as an option for pain management. It is not intended to take away physician discretion and decision-making.”

The following are additional quotes from the CDC Guideline itself:

"Clinicians should consider the circumstances and unique needs of each patient when providing

"Clinical decision making should be based on a relationship between the clinician and patient,
and an understanding of the patient's clinical situation, functioning, and life context."

"The Guideline provides recommendations for primary care providers who are prescribing opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life-care."

Your policy does not provide an exception for palliative care, only patients receiving cancer treatment or end-of-life care. In my opinion, that is a blatant omission.

The facts are also available showing there has been collusion between the insurance industry and CMS in drafting your new “Opioid Misuse Strategy.”

For all of these reasons and more, CMS should not adopt or align your agency’s policies with the CDC Guideline, as it is apparent you have misinterpreted them.


Rick Martin

Feel free to copy my letter or make changes to express your own views. It also might be helpful to attach a copy of Dr. Houry’s letter in your email. If anyone wants a copy of her letter, click here to download it.

Time is running out if we want to put a stop to this.

Rick Martin is a retired pharmacist in Nevada who was disabled by chronic back pain.

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The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.