To determine whether the introduction of prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D increased opioid prescriptions, patient care‐seeking for pain, and pain diagnoses among elderly Medicare‐eligible adults.
Office visits by adults aged 18 years or older from the 2000‐2016 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (12 375 207 253 office visits), and respondents from the 2000‐2017 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (4 023 418 681 individuals).
We compared care‐seeking for pain, provider‐assigned pain diagnoses, and opioid prescriptions before and after the Medicare eligibility age of 65, and before and after Part D's implementation using a regression discontinuity, difference‐in‐differences design. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, race, and year.
Patient care‐seeking for pain increased by 11.4 office visits per 100 people (95% confidence interval 2.0‐20.8), or 29%, in response to the implementation of Part D. Opioid prescriptions and diagnoses of pain‐related conditions did not change significantly, but the financing of opioid prescriptions shifted from private to public payers at age 65.
The introduction of Medicare Part D was not associated with increased opioid use among older adults. Rather, opioid use among the elderly has been driven by high levels of opioid use among commercially insured adults who subsequently age into Medicare. Our findings raise the question of whether more judicious prescribing to younger adults coupled with concerted efforts to deprescribe opioids when appropriate may prevent problematic opioid use among the elderly.