Standardizing Prescription Drug Labels Legislation Signed into Law

Standardizing Prescription Drug Labels Legislation Signed into Law

Standardized, patient-centered prescription drug labels will be on all prescription medicines dispensed in California on or before January 1, 2011, as mandated by SB 472. Sponsored by Senator Corbett, this new law will establish standards for drug label formats, including regulations on font size, placement of information and the provision of translated prescription labels for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). The law also requires that pharmacy consultations by a telephonic translation service be available to patients with limited English language proficiency.

Given that 46 percent of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription drugs, and that nearly six out of 10 adults have taken their prescriptions incorrectly, this is an important piece of legislation (see bill text). Also, 90 percent of people with Medicare take medications for a chronic condition, and about one half of them take five or more medications, which increases their likelihood of making a medication error. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year. In addition, prescription drug spending in California totaled over $188 billion in 2004, a $14 billion dollar per year spending increase from 1984. For more information on SB 472, see the full text of this bill.

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.

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