Narcan is saving people’s lives, but it has an unexpected consequence for those doing the saving.
When life insurance underwriters found out some nurses held prescriptions for Narcan, their life insurance applications were denied. Narcan is used to stop an accidental drug overdose, and it is the prime treatment for rescuing people who would otherwise die from an overdose.
Now the state has issued “guidance,” telling insurers that Narcan-based denials are discriminatory and illegal.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Narcan is a brand name for the product that uses naloxone, a narcotic, to resuscitate people suffering from opioid overdoses.
Insurers must now differentiate between people who carry Narcan for personal use and those who carry it to save other people’s lives.
Those who are carrying it as Good Samaritans have no actuarial increase in death, the Department of Financial Services noted. Life insurance rates, as well as denials, are based on actuarial life expectancy tables.
The state issued new guidance in response to complaints from nurses who were denied life insurance. But the issue goes far beyond medical workers.
Members of the community, including librarians and others who work near people who might overdose on drugs, can take a class on Narcan.
“Then they can be issued a Narcan kit, with a prescription in it,” said Jim Cross, who teaches the classes and is the captain of the West Glens Falls Emergency Squad.
While many ambulance crews and law enforcement officers have Narcan, he said, it’s crucial to also let members of the public carry Narcan.
“The more people that are trained to administer it — minutes are life-saving,” he said.
Every day, more than 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose.
The last epidemic like this was when AIDS began killing people in 1990, said John O’Brien, president of the O’Brien Insurance Agency.
Before that epidemic, people could largely get life insurance by giving him their name, he said.
“The thing that really changed that, unfortunately, was the onslaught of AIDS,” he said.
Then underwriters began asking for medical information. Now applicants also sign a document that gives underwriters permission to get their medical records from any doctor.
Underwriters could ask a pharmacist for a list of prescriptions issued to the applicant, he said.
“That would not surprise me,” he said. “I think a lot of insurers, they look at the consumer with a pessimistic view — What are you hiding?”
Trying to decide the likelihood of death for a young, seemingly healthy person is complicated. Actuarial tables take into consideration many factors. But opioid deaths have defied the odds.
“It’s new territory for everybody,” he said. “They are mathematicians. They have these actuarial tables, and can you imagine if all of a sudden that earthquakes, and we have five million more people die than should die this year?”
At the worst of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, in 1990, the death rate for men was 18.5 deaths per 100,000. The drug overdose death rate in 2016 for men was 25.1 deaths per 100,000 men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“This epidemic is even bigger than the AIDS one,” O’Brien said.
But while his industry struggles to figure out how to insure that risk, he said figuring out which people are saving overdose victims shouldn’t be too hard.
“I’m going to get a new question on my life insurance applications,” he said.
He’s not sure how people will prove they are Good Samaritans, not drug users. They might be required to show that they are first responders or provide proof of taking the community Narcan class.
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