Some nurses who have been prescribed medication to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose, in order to use that drug on people who may need it in public, have been denied life insurance coverage by companies because of that prescription, according to lawmakers and advocacy groups.
That’s why Democrats in the state Legislature moved a bill Monday to prohibit life insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals, including nurses, who are prescribed opioid-reversal medications, like Naloxone or Narcan.
The bill, Monday afternoon, passed the State Senate, where it’s sponsored by State Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Westchester. Harckham said the bill was inspired by a group of nurses that approached lawmakers about the issue.
Some individuals in the profession seek a prescription for opioid blockers to carry with them in hospitals, schools or even in public when they’re off the clock. But that came with an unintended surprise when they went to purchase life insurance, Harckham said.
“What happened was, when they went to apply for life insurance, it showed up on their list of prescriptions and they were being denied life insurance because of this prescription they carry to help the public,” Harckham said. “That’s discrimination that we can’t tolerate.”
Life insurance companies screen individuals to find what medications they’ve been prescribed before approving them for coverage. Those companies have, in some instances, denied coverage for individuals who they see have been prescribed opioid-reversal drugs, regardless of why they were given such a prescription, Harckham said.
The bill, while targeted at nurses, would prohibit life insurance companies from denying coverage to any individual who seeks a prescription for opioid-reversal medication. That could be a teacher, emergency responder, family member or any other individual who has such a prescription.
Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, sponsors the bill in her chamber. She chided life insurance companies for the practice, which advocates at the capitol on Monday said was fairly commonplace among nurses who may not have union-provided benefits.
“It’s just ridiculous. It’s another money-grab,” Rosenthal said. “There’s no basis in fact, there’s no reason to deny these people life insurance, especially nurses who put their lives and their health on the line to do their utmost for their patients.”
Rosenthal said she expects the bill to pass in the Assembly, but that her colleagues haven’t yet had the chance to fully consider it. The legislation was amended and recommitted to the insurance committee in the chamber on Friday.
“It’s been recently introduced, so we take a little longer at times,” Rosenthal said. “So, we have to go through committee.”
Rosenthal and Harckham were joined at a press event by members of the New York State Nurses Association, including Tara Martin, the group’s state political director. Martin said, depending on what kind of practice a nurse is working in, they could be asked to seek a prescription for Naloxone or Narcan as a preventative measure.
“I can’t tell you how many times we run into nurses who have actually had to save a person’s life—not in a hospital, but in a parking lot because someone is overdosing in a car somewhere,” Martin said. “We don’t practice just in the walls of our hospital, we practice wherever we go.”
The prescription can also be used in the event that a nurse, or other individual, unintentionally comes in contact with opioids, Martin said. There are some situations where having contact, alone, with certain opioids can be harmful.
“Some of this stuff can be absorbed through the skin,” Martin said. “So, if a nurse is working on you and you’re dealing with an overdose situation, there’s a strong possibility that you can get direct contact, and that’s very problematic in our industry.”
The Life Insurance Council of New York, the trade association representing life insurance companies in the state, said in a statement Monday that it was not opposed to the bill.
“LICONY applauds the nurses and Good Samaritans who play a valuable role in protecting vulnerable members of their communities from opioid overdoses every day,” the group said. “Our organization has no objections to this bill, since we believe that it largely reflects the practices already being utilized by our life insurance company members.”
Lawmakers in the Assembly will have the next seven weeks to consider the bill before they’re scheduled to leave Albany for the year in June.