**CVS Caremark Corp. (CVS) and Rite Aid Corp. (RAD) have agreed to provide non-English speaking customers in New York with prescription medication instructions in their primary languages, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
In a statement, Cuomo said the pharmacy chains will discuss prescription information with customers in their own language and provide written translations in Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, French and Polish.
"Understanding prescription information is a matter of life and death," Cuomo said. "Our state has always been proud to be the home to people from all throughout the world. We need to make sure that all New Yorkers can read and understand the vital information about their medications, regardless of whether English is their first language."
**The agreements follow an undercover probe by Cuomo’s office into the policies and procedures of New York pharmacies after complaints that pharmacies routinely fail to advise non-English speaking customers in a language that allows them to understand the purpose, dosage, and side effects of their medications. The investigation is ongoing, Cuomo said.
Pharmacists are required under New York law to provide information about prescription drugs to patients orally and in writing, Cuomo said. They’re also prohibited from discriminating against non-English speakers, he said.
Under the agreements, CVS and Rite Aid, two of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains, will inform customers of their right to free assistance in understanding their prescription medication; provide prescription labels and instructions in the six languages that are spoken by more than 1% of the population of New York; and provide additional assistance in all languages through a service called Language Line.
The agreements will affect more than 2,000 pharmacies operated by CVS and Rite Aid in New York.
In a statement, CVS said it didn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement and the pact concludes Cuomo’s probe. The company said it offers language assistance services for its customers, including telephonic language interpretation services for more than 150 languages to assist pharmacists in counseling patients who are not proficient in English, the company said.
"Through this agreement, CVS/pharmacy will enhance current language assistance services in our New York pharmacies going forward," CVS said. "These expanded services will include: warning labels, directions for use of medication, and other pharmacy reference materials in a range of languages commonly spoken by residents of the State of New York; select equipment upgrades; additional training of personnel and other enhancements in the future."
Cheryl Slavinsky, a Rite Aid spokeswoman, said the company has been working over the past several years to increase its capabilities to communicate with customers in their native tongues and the New York attorney general’s office has helped the company refine its approach.
Slavinsky said Rite Aid will make improvements over the next year and a half, with the first step being implementing the six languages specified by the New York attorney general’s office at its New York locations.
The company is evaluating its options chainwide, but has taken several steps to increase its language capabilities for non-English speakers in recent years, such as bilingual pharmacists and clerks in California and telephonic translation services in other areas, Slavinsky said.
"We believe it’s very important people get the right medication," she said.
**Make the Road New York has actively campaigned for pharmacies to provide prescription translation services.
**Attorney General Cuomo’s deal with CVS and Rite Aid were due in large part to the organizing and advocacy work of MRNY.