The addition of prescription-drug coverage was Medicare’s biggest expansion since its creation
in 1965. Called Medicare Part D, it now provides more than 35 million elderly and
disabled enrollees with critical medications for modest out-of-pocket costs.
But since Part D began in 2006, prescribers and their use
of potentially risky drugs have not been
monitored by Medicare.

In 2010, thousands of health providers in Part D wrote prescriptions for drugs to seniors that the American Geriatrics Society says are potentially inappropriate. Some of the 20 most-prescribed drugs in this category and their side effects in older adults:

Type 2 diabetes drug can cause dangerously low blood sugar, other side effects.

Dizziness, fainting and falling; may cause slowed heartbeat.

May raise risk of breast, uterine cancer; doesn’t appear to protect women from heart disease or cognitive loss.

Sleepiness, increased risk of bone fractures.

May cause confusion, drowsiness, blurred vision, difficult urination.

Increased risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding, ulcers.

*For prescriptions and dispensed refills to adults 65 and older by providers who wrote 10 or more prescriptions for these drugs in 2010.

NOTE: Size, color and shape of the drugs may vary by manufacturer. Premarin, Prempro and Ketorolac tromethamine are not shown.

SOURCES: 2012 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds; Medicare Payment Advisory Commission; ProPublica, from Medicare Part D data; American Geriatrics Society, from Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. Drug images from National Library of Medicine Pillbox project. GRAPHIC:The Washington Post. Published May 12, 2013.