by Jennifer Swayne, Staff Attorney
We are excited to share with you a significant victory for New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo included a plan known as SafeRx in his Executive Budget released January 17, 2012! As many of our readers know, SafeRx is a plan that NYLPI, Make the Road New York and other organizations have been working to implement statewide over the past several years to make sure that patients understand their prescriptions.
SafeRx has been an important campaign for us because it recognizes the rights of immigrants, people of color, seniors, those who are disabled, and others to understand how to take their medications. SafeRx requires that chain and mail-order pharmacies throughout New York state provide language access services for those who are limited English proficient (LEP), and requires that prescription labels be standardized so that they are easier to understand for patients such as the elderly who have trouble reading and understanding labels. SafeRx also requires modification of prescription pads to allow prescribers to indicate if a patient is LEP.
Our work on SafeRx included the pursuit of passing New York state legislation, where SafeRx had been introduced as a bill. However, given the politicized and slow nature of passing legislation, we jumped on the opportunity to be involved in another process known as the Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) process. The MRT members were appointed by Governor Cuomo and convened to tackle various cuts to Medicaid in New York and to help determine what might go into the Governor’s Executive Budget. While we continued to pursue legislation, we saw the MRT process as an additional opportunity to continue our advocacy, and as an alternative to the legislative bill enactment process.
NYLPI’s Health Justice Director, Nisha Agarwal, and Make the Road’s Director of Health Advocacy, Theo Oshiro both sat on the MRT Health Disparities Work Group, one of the many groups whose members were selected by the MRT to help assess various factors impacting Medicaid. Through the Health Disparities Work Group, the full MRT had access to experts, documents, and presentations providing very important information about the ways that New York was actually losing money by not incorporating prescription safety for patients in pharmacies. After a series of meetings, the Health Disparities Work Group selected some of the most pressing issues—including SafeRx—as part of its recommendations to the MRT. Even with the prospect of cuts, the MRT recognized the importance of patient safety in pharmacies and passed these recommendations to the Governor to be included in the budget.
Fortunately, this strategy was successful! We were able to get SafeRx included in the Executive Budget. Now, unless the legislature decides to take out the provisions regarding accessible prescription labels, the original legislation will essentially pass as part of an omnibus budget bill.
This serves as an example of one of the many advocacy tools that can be used to bring about positive changes for those lacking access to healthcare and other rights. Legislation is but one means, and looking for other opportunities within the policy process is critical for us to be able to continue our work on behalf of those underserved in healthcare. In addition to coalition building and continually voicing our concern over how patients are treated in pharmacies, participating in discussion and action items surrounding budget cuts, and inserting our work into the executive process proved to be a great strategy that prevented us from being bogged down by the legislative process.
There is certainly more work to do—for example, making sure the final enacted budget accurately reflects all provisions of SafeRx—but right now we can breathe just a little easier knowing that the Governor’s budget reflects the understanding that patient safety has to be a part of any discussion about the budget. We know that such an understanding will help reduce health disparities and improve access to care for people of color, immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities and many others as well—the ideals that we work so hard to make others recognize. For more information on SafeRx, please click here!