Tuscaloosa News
November 5, 2010

No doubt, Robert Bentley\’s \’to do\’ list is growing daily as he prepares to become Alabama\’s next governor, but we hope he will add this: getting the state\’s Medicaid agency to release information on prescriptions written for expensive drugs.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has been gathering information from across the nation to see why some doctors are writing stunning numbers of prescriptions that are paid for by taxpayers. Most states have provided this data; Alabama has not.

It is important because, as it turns out, some doctors are writing far more prescriptions for psychiatric drugs than are their colleagues. Not only does this add to the strain on Medicaid and Medicare, but it may indicate that some patients are being over-medicated.

Grassley, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote to state Medicaid agencies earlier this year, asking them to list their top 10 prescribers of eight drugs commonly used in psychiatry. It may be that these doctors have good reasons for writing the most prescriptions for these drugs, such as OxyContin and Xanax, but it might also point out instances of overuse or even fraud.

In Florida, for example, one physician wrote 96,685 prescriptions for mental health drugs over a 21-month period. That works out to more than 150 prescriptions a day, seven days a week, for nearly two years.

Alabama refused to provide the senator with the information he requested. The response was that this information might be misinterpreted and these doctors may have legitimate reasons for writing so many scrips.

Indeed, but the best way to provide an explanation is with more information, not less. If these doctors are asking the public to pay for these drugs, there should be some public accountability.

Bentley, as a retired physician, is in a unique position as governor-elect to recognize this. He campaigned on a platform of transparency, accountability and controlling state costs. He will have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate what he means.

If Gov. Bob Riley doesn\’t beat him to it, we hope Bentley after he is inaugurated in January will direct state Medicaid commissioner Carol Steckel to comply promptly with Sen. Grassley\’s request.

Medicaid and Medicare can\’t spare a dollar for drugs that are not needed. It may be that the information turns up nothing wrong —
that some doctors simply have different sorts of practices, or see particular kinds of patients. But it might also reveal ways the system can be changed to save taxpayer money and keep these important programs afloat.

Bentley has said Alabama needs a doctor. Soon it will have one as its chief executive officer. Let\’s take advantage of that opportunity.