Assembly-passed bills await Senate Budget Committee action

TRENTON –  A bill dealing with insurance coverage for painkillers will be before the Senate Budget Committee next week as upper-chamber lawmakers kick off the new year addressing some bills that already have cleared the lower chamber.

The Budget and Appropriations Committee will have several bills on tap, including S2088, which would mandate insurers cover medication to treat pain.

Sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, said that while some pain-relief medications can be abused, they also serve much good.

“There’s a reason for them … for people who are in the throes of a life-threatening illness, and for after surgery,’’ she said.

She added that the state often regulates what insurers cover, and added, “I don’t like being in the business of … handcuffing doctors from practicing medicine.’’

The bill, whose Assembly version A1832 passed earlier this year 51-19-3, aims to restrict insurers’ attempts at limiting patients’ access to pain medicine, and it puts more decision-making in the hands of the physicians.

Among other things, the bill says that an insurer cannot require a patient to fail with more than one medication before coverage is provided; and the duration of any such “fail first’’ protocol is to be set by the doctor.

In a fiscal note prepared by the Division of Pensions and Benefits, it was estimated that in regards to the state’s Health Benefits programs the additional costs to state and local governments in fiscal year 2014 would be $5.4 million.

However, the Office of Legislative Services noted in the fiscal estimate it could not agree or disagree with the Executive branch conclusions because an explanation of the costs used to derive the estimate was not provided.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the estimates were developed by the health plan actuaries and assume plan costs will increase by $5 million for the state programs.

Other bills

The Budget panel will consider several other bills that have passed in the Assembly. Among them:

S2273/A1570: This requires sprinkler systems in new single- and two-family homes. The Assembly version passed earlier this year 44-30.

S2860/A4193: This requires new or used police cars acquired after the bill takes effect to be equipped with cameras. Specifically, the bill would mandate that police cars used primarily for traffic stops have such systems installed.

The Assembly passed its version this month, 50-25-5.

S3098/A3691: This requires that public schools be equipped with a panic alarm linked to the police department in case of a lockdown or a situation involving a shooter.

The cost of installing the alarms and red exterior emergency lights will be paid by bonds issued to fund the state’s share of work at schools under the Schools Development Authority or the state’s share of costs at schools in other districts. The Assembly passed its version this month 58-19-3.

Assembly-passed bills await Senate Budget Committee action