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Know Your Rights
Source: Legislative Gazette
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

Budget Provision Requires Pharmacies To Translate Prescription Instructions

The 2012-2013 budget signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on March 30 contains a provision that requires pharmacies to translate prescription medication instructions to customers who do not understand English.

“This is a major piece of legislation with real changes,” said Theo Oshiro, deputy director at Make the Road New York, a New York City-based immigrant advocacy group. “People will see a real difference when going to the pharmacy.”

The Education, Labor and Family Assistance portion of the budget requires pharmacists to determine if their customers can speak English. If a customer cannot speak English well enough to understand their medication instructions, a pharmacy belonging to a chain of eight or more stores must provide free, immediate translations, unless a customer refuses. Mail order pharmacies must also provide translations. 

Pharmacies must provide translations for any language spoken by at least 1 percent of the population of the region they are located in. The Education Department commissioner will determine the language regions based on the 2010 census. Pharmacies have to provide translation for up to seven languages, if applicable. The commissioner must also establish rules to create easier to understand labeling for prescription medication.

“This is really part of an emerging trend,” said Nisha Agarwal, deputy director for Center for Popular Democracy of New York City. Agarwal said 25 million people across the United States have a limited ability to speak English and that 36 percent of the population has a below average understanding of health terminology.

This section of the budget resembles a bill, A.3662, sponsored by Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn, that would require the health commissioner to set up rules for pharmacies to provide prescription medication labeling in other languages. The assemblyman’s office, however, said Camara did not push for the new rules in the budget. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Health Committee.

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