South San Francisco, CA February 24, 2022 Submitted by Leslie Guevarra, Office of Senator Becker
Senator Josh Becker Introduces Bill to Improve Access to Free Surplus Medications for Patients in Need
SB 1346 Aims to Wipe Out Waste of Unused Pharmaceuticals in California
In an effort to repurpose the multimillion dollars’ worth of surplus medications that are discarded in California each year, Senator Josh Becker announced legislation today to make it easier for county health systems to operate pharmacies that can fill prescriptions for indigent patients at no cost by using surplus medications that would otherwise go waste.
Since 2005, California has allowed counties to set up a drug repository and distribution program within their health systems to repurpose donated surplus medications through a county-run pharmacy. So far, only Santa Clara County has established a such a program, even though the high costs of pharmaceuticals force nearly 1 in 4 Americans to skip doses or forgo filling prescriptions they can’t afford.
“Senate Bill 1346, the Better Health Pharmacy Act, helps ensure that unused, unopened and unexpired medications are not wasted,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “Our counties need a clearer a path for providing their patients in need no-cost prescriptions using surplus meds,” said Senator Becker, D-Peninsula. “I’m proud to have Santa Clara County, the pioneer in operating a drug repository and distribution program, as a partner on SB 1346.”
The legislation is the first of two healthcare bills Senator Becker introduced on February 18.
The Better Health Pharmacy Act
SB 1346 updates a law established 17 years ago that allows counties to collect unused and unopened prescription medications from licensed skilled nursing facilities, manufacturers and wholesalers in order to redistribute the surplus to patients who cannot afford their medications – provided that the county and its health facility operating the program abide by rules for safe handling, storage and distribution of the pharmaceuticals. Establishing the program and participating in its services is voluntary.
The 2005 law, SB 798 authored by then-Senator Joe Simitian, enabled Santa Clara County to establish the Better Health Pharmacy in 2010 as part of the county’s safety net health services. Better Health is a stand-alone facility and dispenses only donated pharmaceuticals from licensed healthcare facilities to patients with valid prescriptions. Better Health’s operations are not integrated into other county-owned pharmacies. The county now wants to expand the program to any county-owned and operated health facility with existing pharmacy services to serve more medically indigent patients. That expansion would be allowed by SB 1346, which also streamlines rules for operation and eliminates duplicative record-keeping.
“Better Health Pharmacy is California’s first and only surplus drug redistribution pharmacy,” said Narinder Singh, the Santa Clara Health System’s director of pharmacy services. “Through this program the County of Santa Clara is able to serve patients who cannot afford their medications, reduce pharmaceutical waste and provide an incredible benefit to our community. Senator Becker’s bill will allow us to expand the program, which will increase medication access for all.”
From August 2015 to January 2022, the Better Health Pharmacy dispensed 152,039 prescriptions to patients, saving the county an estimated $8.5 million. Nationally, the annual financial cost of discarded medications in skilled nursing facilities is estimated to be $2 billion. In California, it is approximately $100 million.
“SIRUM has been a proud partner in facilitating drug donations to Better Health Pharmacy over the past seven years, and BHP’s record speaks for itself,” said George Wang, SIRUM’s cofounder. “There is huge potential — and huge need — for more work to connect thousands of patients in need with surplus medication that is going to waste each year. This bill can help make that expansion a reality and ultimately increase access to healthcare.”
Senator Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblymember Alex Lee, D-San Jose, are coauthors of SB 1346, which will be reviewed by a policy committee this spring.
Sharing Potentially Life-Changing Test Results with Patients
In partnership with the California Medical Association, Senator Becker also introduced SB 1419 to provide physicians the opportunity to interpret those medical imaging scans, formulate a treatment plan, and talk to patients about their options related to potentially life-changing imaging results, instead of making them available to patients immediately via the internet or electronic means.
“Image scans and other sensitive data shared immediately with patients through their electronic health records can be greatly misinterpreted without an explanation of what the image means. The California Medical Association appreciates the leadership of Senator Becker in authoring SB 1419 to provide patients with all the support they need when learning of sensitive and potentially life-changing information about their health and well-being,” said California Medical Association President Dr. Robert E. Wailes.
The committee review of SB 1419 also is expected to begin this spring.