The Massachusetts legislature passed a landmark opioid bill that includes help for people with pain. The bill passed at a quarter to midnight on July 31, 15 minutes before the end of the 2017-2018 formal session; the Governor signed the bill into law the following week. U.S. Pain’s National Director of Policy and Advocacy Cindy Steinberg, who also serves as Policy Council Chair of the Massachusetts Pain Initiative, worked closely behind the scenes to ensure the legislation would do as much to improve pain management as it would to ameliorate the opioid crisis.
In the midst of a spate of laws restricting access to care and medication for chronic pain patients, several states are quietly trying to ensure that patients can access alternative or complementary treatment options.
“We know that many people with debilitating conditions are increasingly turning to alternative approaches, but the professionals licensed to practice in these areas are poorly reimbursed, if at all,” says Shaina Smith, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development. “Bills introduced this session relating to such alternative treatments are beginning to change this.”
While summer may seem like a chance for taking a break from advocacy, it’s actually the perfect time to schedule in-district meetings with representatives and senators and educate them on issues related to chronic pain.
“The schedules of elected officials are extremely demanding, sprinting from committee hearings to voting and back again,” says Shaina Smith, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development . “Now that they are back home, their daily agendas are more open to sit down and meet with their constituents, including U.S. Pain advocates. This is the time to educate lawmakers and offer up ways they can support children and adults living with conditions that cause pain. Planting that seed as early as possible in the year will play a significant role once states are back in session and Congress is out of recess.”
The term “advocacy” holds different meanings for different people. When you are a person living with chronic illness, advocating for your health needs, for safe and effective care, and for affordable access to therapies, become a part of your everyday life. That’s according to Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development Shaina Smith, who says advocacy begins with the person living with chronic pain and can expand into the doctor’s office, to insurance coverage plans, and to state and federal policy.
U.S. Pain Foundation tracked nearly 900 bills relating to patient access and safety issues at the state level this session. Those priority issues, which included medical cannabis, integrative pain care, and access to innovative therapy options, yielded 150 bills that will now become law.
What set this session apart from years past is the number of campaigns offered to advocates and how many volunteers acted on the engagements. “We saw a huge surge in the number of volunteers who participated in both state and federal issues ,” says Shaina Smith, director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development for U.S. Pain. “To increase advocacy opportunities, we have created 11 engagements since the start of January, with more on the horizon. To date, a total of 2,846 letters have been sent by advocates to Congress and state lawmakers. This is an astounding feat and would not have been possible without the dedication and passion from our volunteers; I am truly touched and grateful.”
Milestone events took place on April 3 and 11 as U.S. Pain Foundation hosted a legislative breakfast and two advocacy days, a first for the organization, which previously has hosted them only in collaboration with allied partners. The focus of both days was bills that enhance patient safety by limiting the practice of forced medication switches, known as nonmedical switching.
The April 3 program was held at the Connecticut State Capitol and featured keynote legislative speakers, a panel discussion with patients impacted by health coverage interruptions, and a summary of legislation proposed this session. Rep. Michelle Cook and Sen. Heather Somers, cosponsors of Senate Bill 379, addressed those in attendance at the breakfast, with Cook revealing her personal experience with nonmedical switching.
Patient advocates have been heartened to see more states making progress in allowing access to medical cannabis for chronic conditions like pain. In New Jersey, chronic pain was recently added to the list of qualifying conditions for chronic pain. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, passed a bill to increase the number of licenses available for growers and dispensaries. (Unfortunately, the bill adds restrictions on physicians, which may discourage them from certifying patients.) In Hawaii, lawmakers are looking to establish a medical cannabis insurance reimbursement working group to address the possibility of insurance coverage for medical cannabis.
A part of the nonprofit Global Healthy Living Foundation (GHLF), CreakyJoints recently invited U.S. Pain Foundation to co-host a Twitter chat about patient advocacy.
The chat was part of a monthly series known as #CreakyChats. The questions were posed to Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development Shaina Smith, who discussed ways to advocate for oneself and shared some personal obstacles she has had to face in the wake of her chronic conditions.
U.S. Pain is offering three online letter-writing campaigns to urge legislators improve access to medical cannabis. Check below to see if your state is among those that don’t allow full access to medical cannabis for people with pain. Please note you may need to use your nine-digit zip code, which you can look up here.
States: AL, GA, IN, IA, KY, MS, MO, NC, OK, TN, SC, TX, UT, VA, WI and WY
For the 2018 legislative sesion, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development Shaina Smith says that U.S. Pain will be offering more ways to engage than ever before.
The State Advocacy team also has revamped its online tools for taking action. The latest calls-to-action will appear on the Advocacy webpage as well as on U.S. Pain’s social media pages. In addition, there are tools for tracking bills and looking up representatives’ contact information.