NEW YORK—Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and councilmember Eric Gioia, along with Make the Road New York, called for city pharmacies to provide language assistance for New Yorkers with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)
Gotbaum introduced legislation in October of this year known as the Language Access in Pharmacies Act of 2008 (LAPA), which will require city pharmacies to post signs indicating that individuals who speak limited or no English have a right to free, accessible language assistance and translation services when filling prescriptions.
New York has more than 1.8 million residents with LEP, and Gotbaum and her colleagues say they are at risk of taking medications without a clear understanding of the directions or risks associated with their use.
“This is not rocket science” said Gotbaum, “Clearly understanding a prescription you are given is a basic right, yet pharmacies all around the city are allowing New Yorkers to take home medications with instructions they can’t understand”
Pharmacies are currently not required to provide translation services for their customers. This can be dangerous for the immigrant population. Upon enactment, Gotbaum’s law will take effect immediately for any pharmacy that has five or more locations. It will become effective in three years for pharmacies that have two-to-four locations, and effective in four years for pharmacies with only one location.
A 2006 study of language access in NYC pharmacies conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine found that 88% of pharmacies encountered LEP patients on a daily basis. However, 50% of the pharmacists surveyed never translated prescription labels or translated less than once a week, despite the clear need for this service.
“The ability to understand one's medication is a basic right that all New Yorkers should enjoy -- regardless of what language you speak. English only health information doesn't live up to the inclusive spirit of New York, and sets up a dangerous and unnecessary barrier for thousands of hard working New Yorkers who take prescription medication” said Councilmember Gioia
In 2007, Make the Road New York filed a complaint about the lack of translation services at city pharmacies with the State Attorney General’s Office. In November, 2008, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that two of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States – CVS and Rite Aid – have entered into agreements with his office to provide New York customers with prescription medication instructions in their primary language. However, Make the Road New York estimated that over 75% of New York City pharmacies are unaffected by this agreement.