Prescribing readable drug labels…

After a disastrous final ruling last week by the Board of Pharmacy basically gutting an earlier law of hers, Senator Ellen Corbett announced today new legislation to create consumer friendly, readable, prescription drug labels.

Senator Corbett has amended Senate Bill 1390 to require pharmacies to provide language assistance to patients who have limited English proficiency, and use labels printed in a minimum 12 point font size, the suggested standard by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people each year. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 46 percent of adults cannot understand the information listed on their prescription drug labels.

In 2007, Senator Corbett authored Senate Bill 472, which authorized the Board of Pharmacy to establish patient-centered prescription drug labeling in California. The law required the Board to hold public hearings and implement standards. Despite overwhelming public comments in favor of larger type face, the Board last week adopted regulations for 10 point font, with only the request for 12 point–regulations that do nothing to increase consumer safety.

“The Board had an opportunity to set a national standard for consumer protection. They demonstrated that they are willing to put the pharmaceutical companies’ interests ahead of consumers,” said Senator Corbett. “They may not have heard the public, but I have, and that is why I am introducing this legislation.”

Health Access California was proud to be at the press conference, along with many of our board members who have led on the issues, including the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), California Alliance for Retired Americans, Consumers Union, California Immigrant Policy Center, and others. “Over 40 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home, and over 20 percent do not speak English well,” said Marty Martinez, policy director for the CPEHN, a statewide multicultural health advocacy organization. “With our state’s linguistic diversity, we need strong legislative leadership to ensure that all Californians, regardless of the language they speak, are able to receive written instructions about their medications that they can read and understand.”

Senate Bill 1390 will require that by January 1, 2011, pharmacies must provide translation services either in person or through a third party translation service. It will also require that by July 1, 2012 pharmacies must print labels in at least 12 point font.

As amended, SB 1390 will require pharmacies to provide both written and oral translations for all of the materials they provide to patients by January 1, 2013.

While the Board of Pharmacy staff originally suggested regulations requiring 12 point type, the proposal was reversed after Governor Schwarzenegger appointed a new member to the commission who represent the pharmaceutical industry, which tipped the balance of the board.

“California consumers shouldn’t have to read the fine print when it comes to lifesaving medications,” said Betsy Imholz, special projects director, Consumers Union. “Experts and more than a thousand members of the public have spoken in letters to the Pharmacy Board – a minimum 12-point type is what’s required for readability on drug labels. California should respond to this unanimous opinion and lead the way by requiring 12-point type without vulnerable patients having to make a special request for it.”

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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