New York City Law on Provision of Translation Services in Pharmacies

A few States, as well as New York City, have passed comprehensive pharmacy language access laws to ensure that community pharmacies provide free translation and interpreting services to their customers with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Below we describe informally and briefly the gist of some specific requirements enacted in New York City. (See legal disclaimer, below).


On August 20, 2009 the New York City Council passed Bill 859-A, “Provision of language assistance services in pharmacies.” The bill was signed by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg on September 3, 2009 and became Law No. 2009/055.

Pharmacies Directly Affected by the Law:

The pharmacy law affects all pharmacy chains with 4 or more stores anywhere in the US, not just in New York City.

To Which Individuals Are Pharmacies Required to Provide Translation and Interpreting Services:

The law counts as a limited English proficiency (LEP) customer any individual who self-identifies as being “unable to speak, read or write English at a level that permits such individual to understand health-related and pharmaceutical information communicated in English.” Individuals who “evidently” don’t have this level of English proficiency are also covered by the law, whether they are able to identify themselves as such or not.

What Written Documents Must be Translated:

The law mandates that every chain pharmacy in New York City must provide free translation of prescription medication labels, warning labels and other written material that the pharmacy considers vital to an LEP individual’s safe and effective use of prescription medications.

Languages Requiring (Written) Translation:

The law requires that all covered pharmacies provide written translation of certain materials in the seven languages that are the “primary languages” in New York City. The list of the 7 primary languages is to be determined annually by the City, but currently consists of

  • Spanish
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Korean
  • Italian
  • Haitian Creole
  • Bengali

Which (Oral) Interpreting Services are Required for LEP individuals:

Every chain pharmacy is required to provide “free, competent oral interpretation of prescription medication labels, warning labels and other written material to each LEP individual filling a prescription at such chain pharmacy, unless the LEP individual is offered and refuses such services.”

The law does not seem to circumscribe the list of languages requiring interpreting to the list of 7 “primary” languages that require written translation of drug labels. Potentially, all languages spoken in the New York City fall under the scope of the interpreting requirement.

Pharmacies are required to provide interpreting services for all LEP individuals filling a prescription for the purposes of counseling such individual about his or her prescription medications or when soliciting information necessary to maintain a patient medication profile, unless the LEP individual is offered and refuses such services.

Who Qualifies as a Competent Interpreter Under the Law:

An essential requirement for interpreters is that, in addition to having adequate knowledge of English and the patient’s primary language, the interpreter must know the necessary pharmaceutical- and health-related terminology in both languages.

Implementation Schedule:

The law is took effect on June 1, 2010.

Notification Requirement

Pharmacies affected by the New York City Law must post conspicuous notices, in all the seven primary languages, announcing that the patients have the right to free translation and interpreting services. These notices must be posted at or adjacent to each counter where prescription medications are sold.

The full text of the New York City Language Assistance in Pharmacies Law can be downloaded here.

For More Information

To get more information about our pharmacy language services, call 617-621-0945 or email info@RxTran.com to find out how RxTran can help you provide a more comprehensive set of services to your pharmacy clients.

Legal Disclaimer

On this site we informally and briefly describe the gist of some laws and regulations enacted or being considered in various jurisdictions. These descriptions are not intended to be a complete or exhaustive presentation of the laws and regulations. They are not intended, nor should be relied upon, as a source of legal advice. Please consult qualified counsel for any questions regarding interpretation of any laws and regulations mentioned on this site.

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