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Guest Opinion

The cost of saving a life


Would you do anything to save a loved one? Sharon White would for her son, Lloyd. Lloyd was struggling with an addiction, so she got naloxone in case he overdosed.

Opioid reversal medication such as naloxone can save a person’s life if the person is overdosing on drugs such as heroin or fentanyl. Despite her efforts, Lloyd lost his battle with addiction.

Later, when Sharon went to apply for life insurance, she was denied because the naloxone showed up on her pharmacy profile. A medication associated with addiction caused her to be denied despite its not being for her. Hence, Lloyd’s law, a bill that has been introduced to the health committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, came to be. Also called HB 1021, this act prohibits insurers from denying, dropping or increasing the cost of coverage to individuals with an opioid reversal agent like naloxone on their prescription profile.

The opioid epidemic is not a new one to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 2022, 4,703 people died statewide of opioid overdoses. Opioids include medications like oxycodone. Now fentanyl, a stronger synthetic opioid used for pain relief, is being combined with other drugs for a new high. Often, people using these drugs are unaware of this deadly combination.

Last year in Bucks County, 173 people died of an accidental overdose from opioids between the ages of 16 and 69.

One way to combat this epidemic is to increase access to opioid reversal agents. This expansion included getting the medication over the counter as well as through what is called a standing order.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health’s Physician General signed a standing order so people could get naloxone from the pharmacy without having to go to their family physician. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania encouraged everyone to have this in their first aid “tool box” since these medications save lives.

Many opponents may say that one is able to get this medication for free or over the counter.

Naloxone is available at your local pharmacy with the out-of-pocket cost of around $50. If we want to increase access to this life-saving medication then having your insurance cover it reduces the barrier of cost. However, it will show up on your medication profile even if the medication is not for you.

Another argument is that insurance companies can do whatever they deem appropriate with medical information.

Often the family — the ones that love and support those with an addiction — pays the price. It is the family members that have the medication, not the person using drugs. When applying for life insurance, the company looks at your medications that were filled at the pharmacy. If this medication is seen it is assumed you have a high risk for overdose.

The stigma that surrounds addiction can make it hard for anyone to discuss it with their health care provider. Their own medical records can’t explain this so insurance companies can’t determine if the medication is actually for them.

As a psychiatric nurse, I see the struggles families endure when a family member is actively using drugs. As a health care worker, I feel secure in knowing that, if on my way to work an overdose emergency happens, I have the means to help because I carry this medication. Healthcare providers shouldn’t be discriminated against for simply having the means to accomplish this and neither should you. We need to encourage people to obtain this medication and not set up another barrier. Lives depend on it.

Addiction, overdoses and the opioid epidemic are right here in our own backyard. Be prepared Get naloxone. Save a life.

The advice given to increase access could be the very thing that causes your life insurance to discriminate against you.

House Bill 1021 will begin to confront that stigma that causes discrimination for those who care about those with addiction.

I ask that you reach out to your representative; and ask them to support this bill. Demand from your representatives to put this bill to the forefront. Stand up to the stigma and discrimination that occurs with addiction.

My representative is Rep. Shelby Labs, R-143 (Bedminster, Hilltown, Plumstead, Tinicum, and a portion of New Britain Township, as well as the boroughs of Dublin, Perkasie, Sellersville and Silverdale).

My state senator is Steve Santasiero, D-10 (Bristol, Buckingham, Doylestown, Falls, Lower Makefield, New Britain, Newtown, Plumstead, Solebury and Upper Makefield townships as well as the boroughs of Bristol, Chalfont, Doylestown, Morrisville, New Britain, New Hope, Newtown, Tullytown and Yardley).

Tracey Sewter-Cohen is a registered nurse in the nurse practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Plumstead Township.