Measures providing greater protections for abortion providers were among the flurry of last-minute health bills passed by New York lawmakers late this week.
But other significant measures did not survive the final legislative session, including a proposal to legalize safe injection facilities for preventing drug overdoses.
Such facilities are showing promise in New York City, where the two currently operated by the nonprofit OnPoint NYC have intervened in more than 300 potentially fatal overdoses so far and served around 1,200 participants.
A bill to cap the cost of insulin also ultimately failed, but the Legislature was able to push through new requirements related to covered health benefits and patient cost sharing, despite pushback from insurance lobbyists.
Abortion providers secure. Protected status falters.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the state Legislature was focused on “meeting the moment” as the state and nation brace for the Supreme Court’s potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The approved package of abortion bills protects clinicians from being hit with medical malpractice fees or disciplined for professional misconduct for providing reproductive health services. Lawmakers also passed measures to protect abortion providers serving patients from other parts of the country from out-of-state legal action. And they voted in favor of a privacy bill to keep addresses confidential for those who might be targeted by anti-abortion activists. Another bill authorizes the state health commissioner to study the unmet needs of pregnant New Yorkers and the impact of “limited service pregnancy centers,” which don’t inform them of their full range of options.
“We were looking at where we are and how we could answer the times that we’re living in,” Stewart-Cousins said Wednesday.
But a push to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state constitution was ultimately unsuccessful. Groups advocating for reproductive health rights, 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 for the Legislature to return to Albany for a special session to pass the so-called Equality Amendment.
It seeks to prevent discrimination based on “pregnancy outcomes,” along with a range of other protected classes.
I can't emphasize enough what a missed opportunity this has been.
“I can't emphasize enough what a missed opportunity this has been,” Katharine Bodde, senior policy counsel specializing in gender equality and reproductive rights for the 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 have to be tweaked as the legal situation evolves.
“We need to be as flexible as possible, and we're just going to have to recalibrate as the landscape shifts,” she said.
But amending the state constitution is a lengthy process with little room for flexibility. If a constitutional amendment passes, it has to be revisited again in the next legislative session before being put to voters to approve. With no movement this year, the soonest New Yorkers could vote on an amendment would be 2026. Stewart-Cousins said lawmakers struggled to agree on the language of the amendment before the session closed.
Lawmakers, eager to show they were taking action on abortion this session, also introduced a range of bills to create funds for abortion providers and other groups involved with the process of obtaining the medical procedure. But none of those bills made it through.
Overdose prevention centers and opioid measures
Lawmakers also debated a range of bills to address the worsening opioid epidemic, including measures to expand access to medication proven to help people with opioid dependence curb their cravings.
One piece of legislation that passed would eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance — something advocates say has created a barrier to treatment for those who can’t afford the fees. But other measures came up short.
A bill that would require all addiction treatment providers to offer clients access to another effective medication, buprenorphine, passed the Senate but stalled in the Assembly. And a push to decriminalize buprenorphine, which is classified as a controlled substance, also failed.
Other legislation to authorize overdose prevention centers at the state level made it out of an Assembly committee for the first time since being introduced in 2017, but ultimately could not gain enough support.
Some legislators said they were starting to come around to the idea but still had reservations. That includes Sen. Phil Boyle, R-LI, who recently visited the overdose prevention center run by OnPoint NYC in Harlem.
Boyle told Gothamist this week that staff at the center were “some of the most compassionate people I've ever seen. I was truly impressed with what they do, how they do it and the care they have for their participants.”
He said there’s no question the two centers currently operating in Manhattan save lives but added that he didn’t think they were ready to be replicated statewide.
“Who knows, with adequate data, we’ll see where it is a few years from now,” Boyle said, adding that they would definitely be unpopular with his constituents.
Jasmine Budnella, director of drug policy, organizing and campaigns at the harm reduction group Vocal-NY, railed against the lack of action on the bill, which could also open up key funding for overdose prevention centers in New York City.
“The Legislature chose politics over saving people's lives,” Budnella said.
Drug pricing, insurance benefits and other health care measures
Legislators passed several proposals this session designed to expand covered benefits under state-regulated health plans and reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients. That includes measures to further limit patient cost sharing for colon cancer screenings, expand coverage for the HIV prevention medication PrEP, and to allow patients to receive certain types of occupational therapy without a referral from a doctor.
Lawmakers also passed a bill to prohibit a practice known as “step therapy” for mental health conditions. Step therapy requires patients to try an approved drug and record its failure before they can access other medication.
Another bill that passed would allow patients to apply discounts and coupons for prescription drugs toward their overall out-of-pocket costs under their insurance plan.
The New York Health Plan Association, which represents insurers, opposed these and other measures that they said would raise insurance costs for New Yorkers in the long run.
“New York has some of the highest health care costs in the country,” Eric Linzer, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement 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 seeking to hold drug manufacturers 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 cap on patients’ out-of-pocket costs for insulin from $100 to $30 was unsuccessful. The measure passed the Senate but died in the Assembly.
Bills that have been approved this session will now head to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for her signature.