By Chris Pirschel, Staff Writer, and Alec Stone, ONS Public Affairs Director

Insurers Are Refusing to Cover Opioids for Patients

Efforts to curb the national opioid epidemic have taken shape in several ways, including redefined prescription guidelines. However, many insurers are now refusing to cover certain pain medications like the ones commonly prescribed to patients with cancer. For years, ONS has been meeting with congressional offices to advocate that access to prescription opioids for cancer survivors should be exempt from the strict limits assigned to other diagnoses. It’s always been a successful strategy, because ONS helps policy leaders understand that patients with cancer often struggle with issues related to severe pain management, quality of life, and end-of-life care.

However, with the opioid addiction epidemic raging across the country, traditional efforts to address the crisis aren’t working, and many health insurers are making it difficult to obtain prescription opioids—regardless of diagnosis. Tighter restrictions haven’t stopped the opioid epidemic, and those most in need of access to pain management have been hit the hardest. It’s a delicate balance between medical access and potential abuse, but ONS continues to fight for patients with cancer by educating influencers on the importance of affordable and accessible prescription medications.

Six States Increase Smoking Age to 21

State legislators are seeing firsthand the rise in youth smoking through e-cigarettes and vaping, and state health departments, along with local officials, are attempting to stem the tide. States have started increasing sales taxes on products and instituting distribution restrictions, and now some states are enacting higher age limits to purchase tobacco products.

In 2016, Hawaii led the charge and changed its legal minimum age to buy tobacco to 21; since then, five other states and several major cities have followed suit. However, most other states continue to keep their decades-old age restrictions for tobacco products set at 18. By increasing the age for purchase, state legislators hope to cut some of the younger smokers from being able to easily access vaping products. ONS members are sharing their stories with state officials to advance the smoking cessation cause, but more advocacy work is needed to reverse the national youth vaping epidemic

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House Democrats Seek Cosponsors for Medicare for All

The call for Medicare for All continues to pick up steam as the new progressive caucus in the House of Representatives pushes what was once a pipe dream to become a reality—or to at least pass the House soon. With more than 70 signatures already, Medicare for All is well on its way to becoming a rallying cry for expanded heath care. Now, Democrats in the House are seeking more cosponsors to further champion expanding health care to more Americans.

Medicare is a federal program Americans like and understand, and many believe they’re already paying into the system and should be entitled to the benefits. If it passes the House, will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allow a vote? It’s too soon to tell, but if Medicare for All makes it out of the House the conversation could become a real game changer for ONS’s efforts to ensure that all patients have access to quality cancer care.