Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

WASHINGTON: Call it drugs for the departed: A quirky bureaucratic rule led Medicare’s prescription drug program to pay for costly medications even after the patients were dead.

That policy is now getting a second look.

A report released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general said the Medicare rule allows payment for prescriptions filled up to 32 days after a patient’s death — at odds with the program’s basic principles.

“Drugs for deceased beneficiaries are clearly not medically indicated, which is a requirement for [Medicare] coverage,” the IG report said. It urged immediate changes.

Medicare said it’s working on a fix.

Investigators examined claims from 2012 for a tiny sliver of Medicare drugs — medications to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS — and then cross-referenced them with death records. They found that the program paid for drugs for 158 beneficiaries after they were already dead. The cost to taxpayers: $292,381, an average of $1,850 for each beneficiary.

The report is online at http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-11-00172.pdf