(HealthDay News) — Medicare’s patient satisfaction surveys could be contributing to prescription opioid pain reliever abuse, according to an article published June 26 in Medical Economics.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, incentive payments are given to hospitals based on the quality of care they provide to Medicare patients, and this care is measured by a survey that includes questions relating to pain control. With this in mind, the author of the article, Jeffrey Bendix, discusses a letter written by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

According to Bendix, the letter notes that there is growing anecdotal evidence that patient satisfaction surveys may be encouraging practitioners to prescribe opioid pain relievers unnecessarily and improperly. The letter cites the example of a physician who prescribed a powerful painkiller (Dilaudid) for a patient with toothache and a hospital that allegedly dispenses hydrocodone/acetaminophen to patients discharged from the emergency department in order to raise patient satisfaction scores.

“A patient’s answers to these questions can affect the Medicare payments made to these hospitals,” the senators wrote in the letter, according to the Medical Economics article.

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