Pharmacy board must change its stance, Gregoire says
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. – State pharmacy regulators could risk being overruled or worse if they allow druggists' personal objections to interfere with patients' prescriptions, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday.
Her comments were aimed at a rule, endorsed last week by the state Pharmacy Board, that gives pharmacists broad discretion to refuse to fill prescriptions.
The board's present draft says pharmacists may not "obstruct a patient in obtaining a lawfully prescribed drug or device," and adds druggists must provide timely alternatives if they "cannot dispense" a prescription.
The state pharmacy association approves of that stance, but some women's rights advocates say it would allow opponents of morning-after birth control pills to deny the time-sensitive drugs to women who seek them.
Regulators may take final action on the rule in August, but Gregoire said the board needs to change course quickly to protect patients' rights.
"They made a mistake. It's time that it's corrected," Gregoire said at a news conference.
Gregoire pledged to "help them get the right answer," and said she is considering her own suggested rule to remedy what she said were policy missteps and vague language in the board's current rule.
"If they don't get the right answer, I suspect they will find that the Legislature will take it upon themselves," Gregoire said. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, already has pledged to sponsor a bill to overturn the board's position.
Gregoire acknowledged she also could remove the entire board with the Legislature's consent in January, because the members' appointments never were formally confirmed by lawmakers.
But while she is considering "every option," Gregoire said she would prefer not to take such a drastic step, and also does not want to pre-empt the board's action through a possible executive order.
"I don't want this to be done like we're in a dictatorship," Gregoire said.
Nancy Sapiro, an attorney with the Northwest Women's Law Center, welcomed Gregoire's remarks.
"I'm very pleased she has come out and very firmly stated what she wants the public policy to be," she said.
Rod Shafer, director of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, said the trade group believes pharmacists' and patients' rights are being protected under present unprofessional conduct rules.
But the group approves of the board's current direction, which Shafer said codifies existing practices at pharmacies around the state.
"The fact of the matter is that pharmacies are taking care of patients in this state every day," Shafer said. "There is no crisis."
Pharmacy Board officials did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
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