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Patients with back pain in Delaware will have access to interdisciplinary pain care, following Gov. John Carney’s signing of Senate Bill 225.

The act develops a pilot program within the state employee health care plan that allows the use of massage therapy, acupuncture, and yoga to treat back pain. It also prohibits health plans from placing annual or lifetime limits on chiropractic and physical therapy visits.

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The late summer has brought the heat to Oregon after residents caught wind of a proposed change to Medicaid that would force patients with chronic pain to taper off opioid medications within one year beginning in 2020. While many states have enacted tougher restrictions on pain medications in response to the opioid crisis, none have gone so far as to completely eliminate the use of opioids by people with chronic pain who show no signs of misuse.

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After a two-year effort put forth by the Illinois Fair Care Coalition, a group of patient and provider groups co-led by U.S. Pain Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation, children and adults living with chronic conditions will no longer face potentially harmful prescription coverage changes during the health plan year. Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 4146 into law at the end of August, a bipartisan measure that will help protect families from an unfair insurance practice known as non-medical switching.

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California has long been a harbinger of medical cannabis access. In 1996, it approved medical cannabis for patients with a physician’s recommendation, and in 2016, it legalized marijuana for all residents. Continuing to lead the way on this therapeutic treatment option, lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 1996, which would establish a research program on the medical use of cannabis. It would be the first of its kind in the country.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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