En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

AG and Council prescribe pharmacy translation services

On the
heels of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s agreement with big-name, statewide
pharmacies to provide translation assistance to customers, elected officials
and advocates gathered at City Hall recently to urge the passing of a City
Council bill that would enforce such services at all of the city’s chain
pharmacies.

Cuomo’s
agreements, announced April 21, were the result of his undercover investigation
into pharmacists’ alleged disregard for a state law prohibiting them from
discriminating, via their business practices, against non-English speakers.

 
 

The
agreements will affect the pharmacy counters at statewide retailers including
Wal-Mart, Target, Duane Reade, Costco and A & P-operated supermarkets. Like
settlements reached with CVS and Rite Aid in November 2008, the latest
agreements call on the pharmacies to provide prescription labels and directions
regarding medication dosage and safety information in the six languages spoken
by over one percent of the state’s population.

 
 

While
advocacy groups like
Make the Road New York – which initially brought the issue
to Cuomo’s attention and filed a 2006 civil rights complaint against several
major New York
pharmacies – lauded the Attorney General for his “landmark” agreements, they
realize the settlements are time-limited and will expire within a few years.

 


The
Language Access in Pharmacies Act, on the other hand, introduced by Public
Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and 12 City Councilmembers in October 2008, would have
no time constraint and would augment the existing state law, as well as bolster
Cuomo’s agreements with the seven pharmacy chains.

 
 

The bill,
if passed, would indefinitely require every chain pharmacy to provide “free,
competent oral interpretation services” to limited English proficiency (LEP)
individuals regarding their medication prescriptions, warning labels and
patient information sheets.

 
 

Additionally,
under the law, pharmacies would have to “conspicuously post” a notification of
patients’ right to translation services. Smaller pharmacies, for which such
services are not mandated, would have to provide a notification of three nearby
pharmacies that do offer translations. A failure to comply would result in a fine.

 


In the
bill’s language, its authors cited a 2007 New York Academy of Medicine study
that found that just 34 percent of city pharmacies reported translating
prescription labels on a daily basis. This, despite the fact that 88 percent
admitted serving LEP customers and 80 percent were capable of providing
translations.
  

“Clearly
understanding a prescription you are given is a basic right, yet pharmacies all
around the city are allowing New Yorkers to take home medication with
instructions they can’t understand,” Gotbaum said in a statement the day of the
May 4 hearing to promote the Council’s bill. “If even a few words of a vital
medical instruction are lost on a patient, the result can be disastrous. We owe
it to New Yorkers to pass this bill.”