Following Bipartisan Advocacy Led by U.S. Senator Susan Collins, HHS Announces Policy Change to Address Possible Contributing Factor to Opioid Crisis

Washington, D.C. — Following bipartisan advocacy led by U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that it will immediately implement a policy change to address one possible contributing factor to the opioid crisis and heroin epidemic facing our country. Specifically, HHS will remove the pain management questions from the patient satisfaction survey that is tied to hospitals’ reimbursement rate. These questions may inadvertently encourage treatment with opioid pain relievers, contributing to the vast supply of prescription opioids currently in circulation in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. 

“Our nation’s opioid and heroin epidemic has devastated countless families and communities across the country. Physicians now face the complicated task of treating pain in an environment where abuse of prescription painkillers is one of the foremost public health challenges facing our nation. This epidemic requires us to examine our existing policies to ensure that they are not inadvertently contributing to our vast oversupply of opioids, which harms families and communities across America,” said Senator Collins. “For this reason, I led a bipartisan coalition of 26 Senators in urging HHS to examine the current patient satisfaction surveys. I am so pleased that HHS has taken action to eliminate this possible contributing factor to this burgeoning crisis.”

Prior to this final rule, a portion of Medicare funding was tied to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) assessment of the quality of care provided at hospitals across our country, which was based in part on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey that discharged patients complete regarding their experience of care. This survey asked discharged patients to respond to questions including, “During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well-controlled?” and “During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” CMS is developing alternative questions for assessing the management of a patient’s pain through focus group evaluation, field testing, and stakeholder input.

Earlier this year, Senator Collins led a bipartisan letter signed by 26 Senators that expressed concern that the patient satisfaction survey may inadvertently encourage treatment with opioid pain relievers, contributing to the vast supply of prescription opioids currently in circulation. Senator Collins also chaired an Aging Committee hearing to underscore the concerns she raised in her letter to CMS officials.