New York Governor Kathy Hochul gave her inaugural address from Albany on August 24, one day after the drawn-out departure of outgoing Governor Cuomo. In a brief speech that focused primarily on COVID safety, Hochul nevertheless gave harm reduction advocates a potential hint as to her administration’s priorities by referencing the death of her nephew from overdose.
“I’ve listened with a broken heart to your stories of loss from opioid abuse,” Hochul said. “Sadly, similar to what happened to my nephew.”
Hochul’s nephew died after he was unable to access medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) because of the high barriers facing people on Medicaid.
As governor, Hochul will have the authority to sign into law Senate Bill 649A, which would prohibit Medicaid from requiring prior authorization for people to access MOUD. Prior authorizations allow insurance companies to delay your prescriptions while they review them, and deny access to anything they decide isn’t medically necessary.
The bill has already passed through the Assembly and Senate. All that remains is a governor’s signature.
Hochul signing S649A would be a lifesaving intervention for low-income New Yorkers—and a repudiation of her predecessor, who notoriously vetoed that same legislation in January 2020, despite signing a separate bill that removed prior authorization for New Yorkers with private insurance.
Hochul did not elaborate on overdose crisis, nor mention any of the state’s other harm reduction agenda items. Those include expanding of MOUD for incarcerated people, decriminalizing syringes for drug use or the fate of the state’s long-awaited safe consumption sites, which Cuomo has stonewalled for the past three years.
Her mention of her nephew and the circumstances of his death may have been intended only as a general acknowledgment of the opioid-involved overdose crisis. But in a speech that lasted only around 10 minutes and did not reference a host of New York’s most urgent policy crises, it’s notable that Hochul chose to reference one for which a bill now waits at her desk.
Photograph via New York State