Health care proposals are heating up

A patient receives a vaccination.
A patient receives a vaccination.
Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Health care proposals are heating up

Hot-button issues span vaccines, single-payer health care and the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
May 21, 2019

While proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana make a final end-of-session push this year, it is hardly the only outstanding health care issue as the weeks wind down in Albany.

Here are some of the other major health-related bills that lawmakers are considering as the window for passage quickly closes.

Vaccination legislation

New York is facing its worst measles outbreak in decades, with infections mostly contained to ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County. According to officials, there have been 498 confirmed cases in New York City and 225 cases in Rockland. In response to the outbreak, lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would eliminate the religious exemption from vaccines, keeping the medical exemption as the only reason someone would be allowed to not to receive a vaccine. After initially expressing reservations about the legislation, namely around potential First Amendment issues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he opposes religious exemptions due to the danger they pose to public health. The bill appears to have stalled in the state Legislature, having not moved out of committee in either chamber. However, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins said she supports the bill and plans to bring it to a floor vote soon.

The state Legislature is also considering a second bill that would permit teenagers 14 years and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. While both the state Senate and Assembly versions of that bill have been amended since being introduced, neither have made it out of committee.

New York Health Act

The state will not establish a single-payer health care system this year after state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, one of the bill’s sponsors, said his chamber will not vote on the measure this session. Nonetheless, the legislation made more progress this year than it has in the nearly three decades since Assemblyman Richard Gottfried first introduced it. Rivera said that the state Senate would hold joint hearings with the Assembly to gather feedback on the New York Health Act, the first time the chamber has held hearings on the matter. The first hearing is set for May 28. Although the Assembly has passed versions of the bill before, the state Senate has never voted on it, due to the chamber’s longtime Republican majority, and senators have had little opportunity to seriously analyze and consider it.

Nurse staffing and insurance

The New York State Nurses Association is once again pushing for legislation that would create safe staffing regulations for nurses in the state, a perennial issue in Albany. The union reached a historic contract with three hospital systems in New York City that included minimum staffing levels, affecting about 10,000 nurses. However, the association has 42,000 members across the state, most of whom will not benefit from the contract terms in New York City, so the union continues to advocate for legislation at the state level. The bill was voted out of the Assembly Health Committee in April.

The association is raising another issue affecting its members, even catching the attention of Cuomo. Nurses say they have been denied life insurance because they have prescriptions for naloxone, an opioid blocker used during overdoses. More nurses have been getting prescriptions so they can carry it with them as a precautionary measure against accidental exposure while treating patients in nonclinical settings. They are advocating for legislation that would make it illegal for insurance providers to discriminate based on a prescription for Narcan, a brand of naloxone. The bill has passed the state Senate. Cuomo also directed the state Department of Financial Services to investigate the issue.

Prescription drugs

AARP New York is pushing for three bills that supporters say would decrease the costs of prescription drugs. The first seeks to create a wholesale import program for prescriptions drugs, which would require the state health commissioner to get federal certification if the bill passes. A second piece of legislation would confront “pay to delay” deals among drug manufacturers by requiring them to notify the state attorney general of any agreements that hold up the introduction of generic medications. A third bill would let the state attorney general prosecute pharmaceutical companies for price gouging. Another bill would crack down on pharmacy benefit managers – middlemen between pharmacies and manufactures – by requiring them to get state licenses and act in the best interests of health care providers.

Medical aid in dying

The state Legislature is considering the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which would allow doctors to provide life-ending medication to terminally ill patients seeking to end their own lives. The issue has come up in some form or another since the 1990s, although the current version of the legislation was first introduced in 2016. The difference this year is that Cuomo has made his first public comments on the matter. During an April radio interview, the governor said he supports the legislation and would sign it if it passed both legislative chambers. A survey conducted by WebMD in January found a majority of doctors in the state support medically assisted suicide, with an even larger majority backing the specific legislation proposed. However, the Roman Catholic Church remains staunchly opposed to the measure, and legislative leaders have given no indication about where they stand on the issue, nor if they have any intention of bringing the bill to a vote.

-with reporting by Zach Williams

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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