Photo: Lori Van Buren
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ALBANY ā Nurses rallied at the Capitol Monday for legislation prohibiting life insurers from denying someone benefits or increasing their rates solely because they were prescribed the opioid blocker naloxone.
With opioid deaths on the rise, the U.S. surgeon general has called for an increased availability of naloxone, a nasal spray that blocks the effects of opioids and can be administered to an overdosing patient.
Nurses and healthcare professionals, fearing exposure during interactions with patients and drug users they encounter in non-clinical settings, sometimes obtain naloxone without a patient-specific prescription.
Several nurses who obtain the drug have been rejected for life insurance policies, because naloxone appears on their active medication lists, according to Tara L. Martin, state political director at the New York State Nurses Association.
“Every day, nurses are on the front lines of the opioid crisis. We are committed to the work of saving lives, whether at a patient’s bedside or at home in our communities,” she said. “The proposed legislation will allow healthcare professionals the ability to do their jobs without fear of retribution from insurers.”
The Center for Disease Control has warned that highly potent opioids like Fentanyl could endanger first responders through inhalation and or skin contact, although some addiction specialistsĀ question the perceived threat of airborne fentanyl.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Pete Harckham and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, would apply to anyone with a Narcan prescription, unless the insurer could demonstrate a risk. Narcan is a brand name for naxolone.
“It’s discriminatory for insurers to penalize nurses and other medical personnel for carrying naloxone to save lives,” Harckham said. “These professionals are obtaining prescriptions so they can save people overdosing on opioids, anywhere and anytime. We need to encourage more healthcare providers to carry naloxone, not scare them off.”
Rosenthal said that denying insurance to aĀ naloxoneĀ carrier is a form of institutional discrimination that prevents those struggling with substance abuse from getting help.
“Would anyone deny life insurance to a person with diabetes who carries insulin or someone with asthma who carries an inhaler? Of course not,” Rosenthal said.
The Empire Center for Public Policy’s director of health policyĀ Bill Hammond questioned the bill’s broad language, which appears to protect anyone with aĀ naloxone prescription.
If the intention is to protect first responders from exposure, “it should be specific in the bill, so that you’re not protecting the wrong people,” he said.