Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced today that she has introduced a bill alongside Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) titled the “Supporting Seniors with Opioid Use Disorder Act.”
According to Sen. Collins’ press release, the legislation would implement the recommendations set forth in a 2021 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, as well as those from a follow up report published in 2022.
Both of these reports found that Medicare beneficiaries face substantial challenges when attempting to access treatment for opioid use disorders.
“While many perceive the face of opioid addiction to be young, the epidemic harms older adults as well,” Collins wrote. “In Maine, approximately 12 percent of drug overdose deaths last year were of residents aged 60 and older.”
“This bipartisan bill seeks to increase older American’s awareness of, and access to, opioid use disorder treatment covered by the Medicare program,” Collins continued. “I urge my colleagues to support the adoption of this legislation that would greatly improve our understanding of potential disparities in treatment for this community of vulnerable Americans.”
While this bill would not make any changes in policy concerning coverage of or access to opioid use treatment for seniors on Medicare, it would require the government to increase its efforts to educate beneficiaries of their treatment options.
This legislation would also set in motion the production of a report analyzing a number of data points needed to better understand seniors’ access to and utilization of opioid use treatment options.
Among the data collected would be the number of Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with opioid use disorder, the number of those who are receiving medication-assisted treatment, and the number of those who have also received behavioral therapy.
The report would also include an identification of areas that remain underserved with respect to the provision of opioid use disorder treatment.
In recent years, the number of older adults impacted by opioid use disorders has risen dramatically — from 1999 to 2019, opioid overdose deaths among adults over the age of 55 have increased ten-fold.
Another study found that emergency room visits for opioid misuse rose 220% from 2006 to 2014 among those age 65 and older.
Older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions compared to younger people, making the prescription of opioid pain relievers a more common occurrence among this demographic.
Because older adults may have a harder time metabolizing opioids in comparison to their younger counterparts, individuals in this age group are more susceptible to having an opioid overdose.
Diagnoses of opioid use disorder among those 65 and older have also climbed significantly — going from 4.6 cases per 1,000 in 2013 to 5.7 cases per 1,000 in 2018.
For those in this age range, the vast majority of opioid use disorders stem from the use of prescription medication, particularly by those who have more complicated, multi-part regimens.
A recent study of substance use disorders among Medicare beneficiaries found that of the 2 percent who reported suffering from substance abuse or dependence in the past year, 8.6 percent involved opioids.
Statistically speaking, fewer adults in this age range seek treatment in comparison to their younger counterparts. According to one estimate, just six percent of seniors diagnosed with a substance use disorder sought treatment, while 17 percent of those who were younger.
Medicare beneficiaries reportedly face a number of barriers to treatment, including a generational stigma, logistical difficulties, a lack of information, and uneven access as a result of their Medicare coverage.
The goal of the legislation introduced today by Collins appears to be to make some inroads for helping America’s seniors overcome some of these obstacles.