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New for 2019: Drug take-back program, family leave

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    C-GM file photoColumbia Memorial Hospital, at 71 Prospect Ave., Hudson.
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    Courtesy of the Hudson Police Department Detective Pat Meister, of the Hudson Police, doing a routine clean-out of the department’s precription drug drop box at the police station, 701A, Union St., Hudson.
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    C-GM File Columbia Memorial Hospital.
January 2, 2019 12:11 am

Out with the old, in with the new.

As the world rings in 2019, several state laws take effect this month, including a drug take-back program, hospitals publishing itemized price lists and increased paid family leave.

A new state law will allow people to drop off surplus prescription drugs. The program is funded by manufacturers of pharmaceutical products.

The law, which will go into effect Sunday, was passed by both houses of the state legislature in June and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 10.

Jason O’Connor, of Catskill, thought the drop boxes sounded like a good idea.

“It will help get rid of the opioids,” he said. “We’re in an epidemic right now.”

Columbia County recorded two opioid overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2018, according to the most recent available data from the state Department of Health. Of those deaths, one was related to an overdose caused by opioid pain relievers.

Greene County recorded four opioid overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2018 — a rate of 8.4 deaths per 100,000 compared to the rate statewide of 2.8 deaths per 100,000. Of the total deaths in Greene County, three involved opioid pain relievers.

Pauline Otty, of Livingston, also voiced her support for the new law.

“I think that makes sense,” she said. “My husband had prescriptions he couldn’t use and the pharmacy would charge us to take them back. It sounds like a good law.”

The law will also prevent people from flushing pills and harming the environment, Otty said.

Legislators argued the new program will help save taxpayer dollars spent on programs operated by law enforcement agencies and public officials. The law focuses on public education and awareness in addition to drug collection, transport and destruction.

“We placed a drop box in our station more than three years ago,” Hudson Police Chief L. Edward Moore said. “It has been an absolute success. I know with all the pounds and pounds of medications we have secured, some of it would have ended up ingested or in the river. I am sure the drop box has saved lives.”

Hudson police’s drop box, located at the police station at 701A Union St., yields between 5 and 10 pounds of pills when the department empties it.

“When you consider the weight of one tiny pill, that’s a lot of dangerous medications,” Moore said.

Under the new law, chain and mail-order pharmacies will be required to provide consumers with collection options, including drop boxes and prepaid mail-back envelopes. The measure will also ensure rural, urban and other underserved communities have access to ongoing collection services.

“This is a common-sense law,” Moore said. “It will help prevent the misuse of medications and will also protect our water supply.”

In addition to the drug take-back program, paid family leave increased to 10 weeks Tuesday and will now pay employees 55 percent of their average, weekly wage. Also benefitting workers, the minimum wage increased Monday in upstate New York from $10.40 to $11.10.

A new federal rule that also took effect New Year’s Day will require hospitals to publish prices for any item or service they provide.

The updated rule was created in August by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which states hospitals must post standard prices and policies on their websites in a machine-readable format.

Ken Nielsen, of Queens, was walking on Warren Street in Hudson on Monday and said he liked the idea of hospital prices being available.

“It’s great idea,” he said. “The more transparency, the better, in terms of health care.”

Before the law, hospitals were required to make a list of their standard charges and policies publicly available upon request.

“We’ll be in full compliance, but we’re concerned that this requirement will only confuse people since hospital charge masters don’t accurately reflect what one actually pays for care, and every hospital’s charge master is derived differently,” said William Van Slyke, spokesman for Columbia Memorial Health.

CMH, an affiliate of the Albany Med health system, has locations in Columbia and Greene counties in Cairo, Catskill, Chatham, Copake, Coxsackie, Hudson, Valatie and Windham, as well as Red Hook in Dutchess County.

“Based on actual cost, CMH is a high-value, low-cost provider,” Van Slyke said. “In fact, an independent industry analysis repeatedly found CMH to be one of the lowest, actual-cost providers in the region for both inpatient and outpatient care.

“We understand that more people are paying more out-of-pocket due to government policy changes, however, this posting requirement won’t do much to help them,” Van Slyke added. “We encourage people to contact our billing department directly for more information about these matters.”