New health care laws in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to take effect in 2024

New state laws focus on donated breast milk insurance coverage, patient consent, birth control prescriptions, hospital drug testing, and more.

A birth control packet sits unused in open plastic wrapping.

File photo: This Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 file photo shows a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills in Sacramento, Calif. Starting in spring of 2024, New Jerseyans will not need a prescription from a doctor in order to purchase hormonal birth control. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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With a new year comes new laws that will soon take effect, and some of them may change health care rules, services, and delivery where you live.

Here are some laws that will take effect this month and early this year in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


Donor breast milk

Health providers often recommend that babies born with serious medical conditions be fed with breast milk, for the health benefits and to avoid possible gastrointestinal issues related to  formula.

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But some mothers struggle to produce enough milk or aren’t able to breastfeed at all.

Under Pennsylvania’s new “Owen’s Law,” Medicaid health insurance will now pay for breast milk that is donated from other women and parents. The law will take effect around Jan. 20.

This milk is screened and pasteurized at designated milk banks across the country. Most of it is given to newborns in hospital neonatal intensive care units, and some is sold in outpatient settings, but can cost as much as $4 per ounce.

Medicaid coverage will apply when breast milk is deemed medically necessary for infants with or at risk of low birth weight, congenital heart disease, sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis, neonatal abstinence syndrome, renal failure, and other serious medical conditions.

Patient consent

Another law that’ll be in place later this month will require health providers to get both verbal and written consent from their patients to do a pelvic, rectal, or prostate examination before they are sedated or anesthetized.

The addition to the state’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act requires explicit patient consent when these examinations occur for medical training or instruction purposes, but it does not apply in emergency situations when exams are necessary for providers to make a diagnosis and carry out treatment.

Hospital drug testing

Urine drug tests that are performed on patients in hospital emergency departments to diagnose a medical condition must soon include screening for xylazine and fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, is involved in a majority of drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. Xylazine, known as “tranq,” is a non-opioid animal tranquilizer present in an increasing amount of street drug supplies and can cause skin sores and wounds.

When a patient tests positive, hospital staff must provide them with resource information and educational materials on the effects of these substances and the risks they pose when injected or ingested.

Tests that detect a certain amount of these substances must be reported to the state Department of Health, without patient identification information. According to the new law, which takes effect in February, the reporting is intended to gather more data on the presence and spread of xylazine and fentanyl throughout the Commonwealth.

New Jersey

Birth control at pharmacies

And in New Jersey, a new state law signed in early 2023 says people do not need a prescription from a doctor or nurse to get hormonal birth control. Pharmacists can dispense medication themselves at the counter. State officials hope expanded access will start sometime this spring.

Insulin, EpiPen, and inhaler price caps

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law legislation aimed at reducing out-of-pocket costs for epinephrine auto-injector pens for allergic reactions, asthma inhalers, and insulin for diabetes for people with certain health plans.

Health insurers in the Garden State must cover insulin so that any coinsurance or copay costs to patients are capped at $35 for a 30-day supply.

Similarly, the new law caps the purchase of epinephrine auto-injector devices like EpiPens at $25 for each 30-day supply, and cap prescription asthma inhalers at $50 per 30-day supply of the medication.

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The law officially takes effect early this year, but the price caps won’t apply to health insurance plans until Jan. 1, 2025.

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