Abortion protections survive, but safe injection sites scuttled at end of Albany session

Measures offering greater protections to abortion providers were among the flurry of last-minute health care bills passed by New York lawmakers over the weekend.

But other important measures did not survive the last legislative session, including a proposal to legalize safe injection facilities to prevent drug overdoses.

Such facilities show promise in New York City, where the two currently operated by the nonprofit OnPoint NYC have so far responded to more than 300 life-threatening overdoses and served about 1,200 participants.

A bill to cap the cost of insulin also ultimately failed, but the legislature was able to impose new requirements related to covered health benefits and cost-sharing for patients, despite pushback from government lobbyists. insurance.

Safe Abortion Providers. Protected status wavers.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the state legislature is focused on “the present moment” as the state and the nation are bracing for the Supreme Court’s potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Approved package of abortion bills protects clinicians from blows medical malpractice costs or disciplined for malpractice to provide reproductive health services. Lawmakers also passed measures to protect abortion providers who serve patients in other parts of the country from out-of-state lawsuits. And they voted in favor of a confidentiality invoice to keep addresses confidential from those who might be targeted by anti-abortion activists. Another one invoice authorizes the state health commissioner to study the unmet needs of pregnant New Yorkers and the impact of “limited-service pregnancy centers,” which do not inform them of their full range of options.

“We were looking at where we are and how we might respond to the times we live in,” Stewart-Cousins ​​said Wednesday.

But a push to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution ultimately failed. Reproductive health rights groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, are now calling on the legislature to return to Albany for a session to pass the so-called equality amendment.

It aims to prevent discrimination based on ‘pregnancy outcomes’, as well as a range of other protected classes.

“I can’t stress enough what a missed opportunity this has been,” Katharine Bodde, senior policy advisor specializing in gender equality and reproductive rights for NYCLU, told Gothamist.

Bodde said the measures passed this session to protect abortion providers were steps in the right direction, but added that regulatory language will likely need to be changed as the legal situation evolves.

“We need to be as flexible as possible, and we’ll just have to recalibrate as the landscape changes,” she said.

But amending the state constitution is a long process with little leeway. If a constitutional amendment is adopted, it must be reconsidered in the next legislative session before being submitted to voters for approval. With no movement this year, the earliest New Yorkers could vote on an amendment would be 2026. Stewart-Cousins ​​said lawmakers struggled to agree on the wording of the amendment before the closing of the session.

Lawmakers, eager to show they are taking action against abortion this session, also introduced a series of bills to create funds for abortion providers and other groups involved in the abortion process. obtaining the medical procedure. But none of these bills were adopted.

Overdose prevention centers and opioid measures

Lawmakers also debated a series of bills aimed at tackling the worsening opioid epidemic, including measures to expand access to drugs shown to help people who are addicted to opioids to reduce their cravings.

A bill passed would be eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance — which advocates say has created a barrier to treatment for those who can’t afford the fees. But other measures failed.

A invoice it would require all drug treatment providers to offer clients access to another effective drug, buprenorphine, passed in the Senate but blocked in the Assembly. And a thumbs up decriminalize buprenorphinewhich is classified as a controlled substance, also failed.

Other legislation authorizing state-level overdose prevention centers came out of an Assembly committee for the first time since it was introduced in 2017, but ultimately couldn’t garner enough support.

Some lawmakers said they were starting to buy into the idea but still had reservations. That includes Sen. Phil Boyle, R-LI, who recently visited the OnPoint NYC-run overdose prevention center in Harlem.

Boyle told Gothamist this week that the staff at the center are “some of the most compassionate people I have ever seen. I was really impressed with what they do, how they do it and the care they give to their participants.

He said there is no doubt that the two centers currently operating in Manhattan are saving lives, but added that he does not believe they are ready to be replicated across the state.

“Who knows, with proper data, we’ll see where it is in a few years,” Boyle said, adding that they would certainly be unpopular with his constituents.

Jasmine Budnella, director of drug policy, organizing and campaigns for harm reduction group Vocal-NY, railed against the lack of action on the bill, which could also open a key funding for overdose prevention centers in New York.

“The Legislative Assembly chose politics over saving people’s lives,” Budnella said.

Drug prices, insurance benefits and other health care measures

Lawmakers passed several proposals this session aimed at expanding benefits covered by state-regulated health plans and reducing out-of-pocket costs for patients. This includes measures to further limit cost sharing with patients for colon cancer screeningsexpand coverage of HIV prevention drugs Preparationand to allow patients to receive certain types of occupational therapy without a doctor’s recommendation.

Lawmakers also passed a bill ban a practice known as ‘step therapy’ for mental health issues. Step therapy requires patients to try an approved drug and record its failure before they can access other drugs.

Another one invoice that passed would allow patients to apply discounts and coupons for prescription drugs to their overall expenses under their insurance plan.

The New York Health Plan Association, which represents insurers, opposed these and other measures that it says would increase insurance costs for New Yorkers in the long term.

“New York has some of the highest health care costs in the country,” Eric Linzer, the association’s president and CEO, said Friday. “Unfortunately, recent actions in Albany will drive up the cost of coverage and make health insurance even more expensive for consumers and small businesses.”

The legislature passed a bill this session aimed to hold drugmakers accountable for rising prices by requiring them to notify the state’s Drug Utilization Review Board of proposed increases. But a push to lower the patient out-of-pocket spending cap for insulin from $100 to $30 failed. The measure passed to the Senate but died in the Assembly.

Bills that were approved during this session will now be directed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for her signature.