Huntsville Area Prominent In Medicare Payments Data

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Newly released Medicare data has a Huntsville pain clinic in the spotlight.

That's because that data puts the Huntsville area up at the top for Medicare spending per enrollee in the nation.

This is according to a Washington Post investigation.

The investigation shows the Huntsville area ranks fourth in the nation for Medicare spending per enrollee for drugs given by doctors in 2012.

The investigation also shows the area ranks number one on spending for unclassified drugs.

"This medication keeps me functioning.  Prior to that, I was bedridden or using a cane and I'm not willing to go back to that," patient Pat Brunker says.

She's talking about a treatment she got at the Alabama Pain Center. It's a pump under her skin and the medication that courses through the pump is considered as an unclassified drug injection.

Those are drugs mixed at places like the center.

The Washington Post reports that form of treatment is rare and expensive.  The pain clinic is unique in that it mixes the drugs on site and offers the treatment.

That's why people from all over the south flock to the center.

The Post's investigation shows Medicare spends significantly more on unclassified drug injections per enrollee in the Huntsville area than the rest of the nation.

For example, the Washington Post reports Medicare spends on average about four dollars on unclassified drug injections per enrollee nationwide.

In the Huntsville area, that number jumps to about $152 per enrollee.

The Post reports that's 38 times more.

So, why is Medicare spending so much in the Huntsville area than in the rest of the nation?  Center leaders tell the Post the treatments are for the "worst of the worst" and that those pain pumps are usually more expensive.

Last year, a Medicare contractor started an audit on the center.

Then late last year, the center was told all Medicare payments would stop.

That was a move center leaders told WHNT News 19 would force them to shut down.

Brunker said at the time the center's potential shutdown would be crippling for her. "I don't understand how they can deny us, all of us, our medications and I don't know where to go."

Eventually, Medicare resumed payments and the center stayed open.

The Washington Post reports pain clinics nationwide rarely use the pump style treatment.  But, they report it's used thousands of times a year at the Alabama Pain Center which ultimately brings in those Medicare reimbursement dollars.

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