Department of Financial Services Issues Guidance to Insurers Following Governor's Call for DFS to Investigate Reports of Nurses Being Denied Life Insurance for Carrying Opioid Overdose Reversal Medication
Issuers of Life, Disability Income, and Long Term Care Insurance That Deny Coverage to Medical Professionals May Be in Violation of New York Insurance Law Regarding Discrimination
Cuomo: "In the midst of a national opioid crisis, it is common sense for our nurses and first responders who work every day to keep New Yorkers safe to carry naloxone. Denying them insurance coverage for doing their job to save lives is unacceptable, and today we correct this discriminatory practice."
As part of a comprehensive effort to combat the opioid crisis in New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the Department of Financial Services is issuing industry guidance for life and health insurers in New York State reminding them of their obligations to provide insurance to nurses and first responders who carry naloxone or Narcan to reduce overdose deaths.
"In the midst of a national opioid crisis, it is common sense for our nurses and first responders who work every day to keep New Yorkers safe to carry naloxone," Governor Cuomo said. "Denying them insurance coverage for doing their job to save lives is unacceptable, and today we correct this discriminatory practice."
Governor Cuomo has undertaken a comprehensive and wide-ranging strategy to combat the opioid crisis in the state and to ensure that all New Yorkers have the resources and support they need for recovery. These initiatives include easing some of the barriers to treatment by providing easier access to medications for addiction treatment - including methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone for the treatment of a substance use disorder - and ensuring that New Yorkers have access to non-opioid pain medications. In addition, the Governor has provided funding to expand addiction treatment services and personnel and to support evidence-based prevention strategies to break the cycle of opioid addiction.
"As part of New York's comprehensive efforts to address the opioid crisis, we have worked to ensure more access to naloxone to save countless lives," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "Our nurses and first responders should be fully prepared to help those suffering from an overdose, and insurance companies should not deny the availability of live-saving treatments. This new law will take direct action to make sure all New Yorkers receive the prompt medical attention they need."
Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda A. Lacewell said, "Denying life insurance for medical professionals solely based on carrying a prescription for an opioid-reversal drug such as naloxone is a violation of New York insurance law. To deny benefits to our first responders is counterproductive to everything we do. This guidance not only protects our nurses, firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and overdose victims - it also safeguards the families and loved ones of pre-hospital caregivers and provides peace of mind through access to insurance."
From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was six times higher than in 1999, according to the CDC. Everyday more than 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Against this backdrop, New York's nurses, first responders (including police, firefighters and paramedics), and others likely to encounter those at risk of an overdose are taking prudent measures in the public interest to reduce overdose deaths by obtaining prescriptions for naloxone or Narcan.
Following reports that some insurers may be denying applications for life insurance, disability income insurance, or long term care insurance based on an applicant having been issued a prescription for an opioid-reversal drug such as naloxone or Narcan, Governor Cuomo called on DFS to investigate insurers' underwriting guidelines and practices in New York related to opioid-reversal drugs.
The Department's investigation concluded that insurers' underwriting practices and guidelines did not distinguish between circumstances where an applicant had a prescription for naloxone or Narcan that was for their own use versus where the applicant had a prescription to be able to administer on encounters with at-risk opioid overdose patients. The issued guidance reminds insurers of their obligations under New York law not to unfairly discriminate against insurance applicants by denying coverage where there is no appropriate actuarial or legal justification for doing so.
A copy of the industry guidance can be found on the DFS website. The Governor encourages first responders who have been denied coverage to contact the Department of Financial Services via the Department's consumer complaint website or phone line, to ensure all instances are thoroughly investigated. Nurses should file a consumer complaint at www.dfs.ny.gov/complaint or call (212) 480-6400 or toll-free (800) 342-3736 (Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM).