Bill requires pharmacies to offer prescription-reading audio devices to patients

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A Walgreens pharmacy is seen at 3717 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Feb. 9, 2015.

Fri, Mar 17, 2017 (6:45 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — When visually impaired Nevadans with multiple drug prescriptions are left to take medicine on their own, deliberating between tubes of pills can be a challenging task, legislators at a Senate hearing testified on Friday.

Senate Bill 131, sponsored by state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, aims to help Nevadans who are blind or severely visually impaired to avoid taking the wrong pills. It mandates that all pharmacies offer requesting patients prescription reading devices, which read aloud the name of the drug, the name of the person it’s prescribed to and the recommended dosage — free of charge.

“This bill makes information accessible for folks that can’t read the labels,” Denis said during a hearing Friday in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy.

The devices, which can cost $5 to $60, according to Denis, are normally covered under medical insurance plans, Medicaid or Medicare. But for uninsured patients who fall “in the gap,” SB131 aims to make sure they’re still covered. Nevada pharmacies would pay for the cost of the devices given to uninsured Nevadans, and then be reimbursed by the state.

Las Vegas resident Bill Powers testified Tuesday that he has been legally blind his entire life and has only 5 percent vision in both eyes. Sitting next to his wife, Bari, the hat-wearing, silver-bearded Nevadan demonstrated for legislators how to use his battery-powered ScripTalk device by placing a tube of his medicine on top of the hand-held machine and listening while it told him the name of his pills.

“It would be able to read all of the information about this medicine,” Powers said. “Everything that is actually printed on the label is recorded on the script on the bottom, and I can get any of the information I need before I decide to take my medicine.

His wife told legislators a story about how a serious illness left her husband bed-ridden and unable to move in 2015. Bari Powers testified that without the prescription-reading device, her husband might not have been alive and sitting next to her on Friday.

“I had no idea what was where and what was when,” said Bari Powers, who told legislators she is fully blind and also uses the prescription-reading device for her own medications. “I had to use the machine to help me figure out what pills he needed to take and when to take them.”

Committee members asked whether other technology, like smartphone apps or cameras, would be both more practical and economical than a battery-powered handheld audio device for helping Nevadans understand the prescriptions on their tube.

State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, asked if taking a picture of the tube with a mobile device and zooming-in on the picture might be a viable alternative.

“Seriously, there is an opportunity to do that,” he said, just moments before Bill Powers’ ScripTalk device shut off during a demonstration because the battery ran out.

Both Denis and the Powers couple said that for many visually impaired Nevadans, even a camera phone and close zoom wouldn’t help them read their prescriptions’ labels. Bari Powers said she is “totally blind” and “can’t even see the sun outside.”

“We need to have this bill passed so people don’t get their medication mixed up,” she said.

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