New Data Reveal Most Prescribed Drugs To RI Medicare Recipients

May 4, 2015

In 2013, the top prescribed drug for Rhode Islanders with Medicare drug plans was Omeprazole, a treatment for heart burn, ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Health care providers wrote about 190,000 prescriptions for it.

(Reminder: Medicare is the health benefit plan for people over the age of 65 or disabled adults.)

That's followed by atorvastatin calcium (brand name Lipitor), used for lowering cholesterol - prescribed to 27,000 individuals.

In Rhode Island, Medicare (including what the government pays and what beneficiaries pay in co-pays, etc.) paid the most, however, for the Advair Diskus, used to treat asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) - nearly $11 million dollars for about 38,000 prescriptions (that was for about 7,000 individuals).

OxyContin, an opioid painkiller known for easing short-term acute pain but also for being highly addictive, ranked number 17 on the list of top prescribed drugs for Medicare patients in Rhode Island, with about 13,000 scripts written for about 1800 beneficiaries.

What does this tell us? Well, I leave it to epidemiologists and other health researchers to draw verifiable conclusions, but the data raises questions for me, like:

  • Is smoking the cause of so much COPD?
  • Are we doing a good enough job preventing diabetes before it develops?
  • Why so much heartburn - could diet help, too?
  • Are we better or worse off than the rest of the country when it comes to high cholesterol?

New CMS data paints detailed picture of prescribing habits
How did I come by this data?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released another juicy data set (health care reporters everywhere are salivating) that includes detailed information on the prescription drugs individual physicians and other providers prescribed in 2013 for Medicare Part D prescription drug plan enrollees. That's about 36 million people, more than two-thirds of all Medicare beneficiaries. Together, they prescribed more than $100 billion dollars in prescription drugs in 2013.

Why does this data excite reporters so much? Because you can slice it and dice it to figure out what drugs are most prescribed, which cost the program (i.e., taxpayers) the most, and which prescribers are writing scripts for which drugs, and how often.

Here's a quick look at the data I pulled from the new CMS data set for Rhode Island Medicare beneficiaries - the top drugs prescribed in 2013 by number of individuals (beneficiaries), then by the total number of claims, then by total drug cost. I've included the most common uses for these drugs, plus the generic name. You can follow the link above to the CMS data yourself and slice and dice away, too!