NASHVILLE, Tenn. - TennCare administrators admit to an increase in spending on narcotics prescriptions, but insist reforms to cut fraud are working in Tennessee.
From 2007 to 2011, the amount TennCare as spent on narcotic prescriptions has increased by 48%.
"But from where it was before, to where it is now, it is a dramatic decrease," said spokesperson Kelly Gunderson.
She pointed to 2005 when TennCare paid over $113 million in narcotic prescriptions. That was the year former Governor Phil Bredesen initiated sweeping reforms to the program. That number dropped to $64.7 million the following year.
In 2007, TennCare spending on narcotics dropped to $33.5 million and increased in the years that followed. Just last year did the spending start to decrease.
TennCare administrators know the illegal use of narcotics factored into the money spent on pain killers. It is an issue they have worked to address for many years.
"From where it was before, to where it is now, it is a dramatic decrease," Gunderson said.
Between 2005 and 2007 the number of TennCare enrollees dropped by 300,000 people. But since 2011, the number of enrollees on TennCare as increased, and so has spending.
The crackdown on the illegal use of prescription drugs made it all the way to Capitol Hill in Nashville last legislative session.
"It is a statewide epidemic, and we needed to step in and do something about it," explained State Senator Ken Yager.
The Republican from Harriman introduced and passed first-time regulations of so-called "pill mills" in Tennessee. The state now has new oversight over the operation of pain clinics because of the new regulations.
Yager said those establishments added to TennCare's bottom line.
"I was advised to look at TennCare. The comment from my constituents was, and I am quoting them, ‘TennCare is paying for a lot of these prescriptions,'" the Senator said.
Governor Bill Haslam has plans to address the issue of illegal narcotics usage. He has plans to increase provisions that will make it more difficult to get around the system.