Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Senate Holds Hearing Raises Nurse Agent, Drug Disposal Issues

Drew Thies

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week that touched on a 40-year old law affecting medication access for those staying in skilled nursing facilities. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired the hearing Wednesday on oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Michele Leonhart, Administrator of the DEA, testified.

AHCA is actively working with Sen. Whitehouse and other members of the committee on the nurse agent issue. During the hearing, Whitehouse asked Leonhart about an 80 year-old-woman staying in a SNF who needs access to her pain medication and who that woman’s medical advocate was within the center. Leonhart replied that the comment period built in to agency rule making allows for those concerns to be heard.

Current DEA enforcement practices restrict nurses’ ability to prescribe and dispense critical medications to those receiving skilled nursing care. Created decades ago, the regulations do not take into account the shorter-term, rehabilitative care that skilled nursing centers now provide. Though the Controlled Substances Act permits a practitioner, such as an off-site physician, to rely on an agent to handle medical issues for a patient, the DEA recognizes no such relationship for long term care nurses.

Additionally, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) also asked about a pending drug disposal rule, which she noted many have been waiting on for years. Leonhart stated that they just received questions back from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the proposed rule and have resolved all but one question. Once the question is resolved, the rule will be issued. AHCA staff recently met with OMB and other interested parties about the rule and will continue to keep members updated on its status.

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