Bill outlaws drug label fine print

JUNE 15, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, announced new legislation today that refutes recent decisions made by the state Board of Pharmacy, citing medication errors as the need.

In 2007, Corbett authored SB472 authorizing the Board of Pharmacy establishing patient-centered prescription drug labeling in California. The law required the board to hold public hearings and implement standards.

But Corbett apparently didn’t like the standards that the board proposed.

So instead, Corbett introduced legislation Monday requiring prescription drug labels to be produced with a much larger font type, and even in the native language of non-English speakers. Corbett said that seniors and non-English speakers need assistance reading he labels in order to use the medicine correctly.

Additionally, Corbett’s bill, SB1390 proposes to require pharmacies to make translators available to non-English speakers.

The Board of Pharmacy spent the last two years gathering feedback, accepting testimony and researching whether or not the problem is sufficient to warrant changes to the labels, eventually voting to make the type size a 10 point font.

Corbett’s legislation was a quick response to the board’s decision. Asked if independent pharmacists had input in her bill, Corbett said, “Part of the bill was public input. Small pharmacies had input.”

Lynn Rolston, California Pharmacists Association said that the Pharmacy Board obtained a great deal of feedback over the past two years.  Rolston said that more than half of all of the industry independent pharmacies are members of the California Pharmacy Association and that both chain and independent pharmacies will be affected by Corbett’s legislation. “While chains can make the changes, translators are very expensive.” Rolston said that this is just not a realistic option for most independent pharmacies.

Rolston also explained that the real problem at hand is that the purpose of the prescription seems to be the underlying problem, best resolved between doctor and patient. Rolston said that Corbett’s legislation is not the answer and while definitely a big change for pharmacies, it’s probably not the right change to fix any real problems.

Longtime independent Sacramento Pharmacist Gary Thomas said that the change in size of font size on the prescription labels most likely will require pharmacies to go to larger pill bottles. Thomas said that translators are very expensive and not something most small independent pharmacies will be able to afford.

Rolston pointed out that Pharmacists will not and cannot hand out prescriptions written in languages that they cannot even read, in response to the written translation on the prescription label. “It’s expense versus results,” according to Rolston.

Rolston confirmed that even chain pharmacies operate with such tight margins, that adding the additional costs for translators and pill bottles “is likely to be very expensive.” Ralston said that prescriptions are dispensed with written instructions, leaving many to question the need for Corbett’s bill.

“Seniors have an inability to read the labels,” said Corbett during her closing statement at the press conference. “Asking for this solution is reasonable. It makes sense that all pharmacies provide this service,” said Corbett.

Supporting Corbett’s bill was a dissenting Board of Pharmacy member, Ramon Castellblanch. Castellblanch said he was “disappointed by the board” over the last year and stated that the only opposition to Corbett’s bill were chain pharmacies.

Betsy Imholz from Consumers Union said, “They didn’t listen to testimony,” referring to the Board of Pharmacy. “Californians shouldn’t have to read the fine print,” said Imholz.

Chuck Walker, a representative for California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) read from a prepared statement and explained that CARA supports Corbett’s bill because “we deserve no less.” Walker said, “translation on the label, more white space, and translations in key threshold languages in California,” were the issues CARA supported in Corbett’s bill.

Anthony Wright from Health Access California was critical of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “last minute appointment” to the Board of Pharmacy and said it tipped the balance of the board, leading to the board decision to only require 10 point type unless the customer requests larger type.

The written account of Corbett’s press conference stated that “the Board of Pharmacy staff originally suggested regulations requiring 12 point type,” but the Governor’s appointment changed that.

Yet Rolston indicated that the board expended considerable time and research, and concluded that 12-point type was not necessary nor would it be any more effective than 10-point type on prescription bottles.

Corbett said that the bill would be on the governor’s desk Monday afternoon.

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