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Senate Panel Considers Bill to Outlaw Handwritten Prescriptions

tom greene
Katarina Sostaric
Sen. Tom Greene speaks at a Human Resources subcommittee meeting Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

A three-member Senate panel is delaying a decision on a bill that would require all medical providers to electronically submit drug prescriptions to pharmacies.

Sen. Tom Greene, (R-Burlington), who worked as a pharmacist, says the bill would help curb the abuse of opioids and other controlled substances.

“I’ve so blatantly had people hand me a handwritten prescription the doctor wrote for 10 sleeping pills, and they changed the one to a four,” Greene says. “Easy change.”

The Board of Pharmacy filed the bill, and executive director Andrew Funk told the subcommittee it’s safer for the prescription to go directly from a physician’s computer to a pharmacy’s dispensing software.

“They have that prescription in their hand and can attempt to make copies, can attempt to alter numbers, patients have in the past stolen prescription pads from practitioners and written their own prescriptions,” Funk says. “The electronic prescription requirement would entirely eliminate that piece of potential fraud.”

Funk says about 9 percent of prescriptions filled for controlled substances in Iowa are currently submitted electronically.

The bill as written would take effect July 1, 2019.

Lobbyists for medical providers expressed concern that would be too soon to get the proper software in place.

“That date may be unattainable for some folks, let alone for our smaller rural hospitals and rural physician practices around the state,” says Dennis Tibben of the Iowa Medical Society.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, says she understands the urgency behind the proposal, but she is also nervous about some groups who might not be able to make that deadline.

“If we could move that date to January 1st of 2020, it might just be a little fairer to the people who have to comply with this,” Mathis says.

The senators plan to look at changing the effective date and adding another possible amendment before again considering whether to move the bill to the full Senate Human Resources committee. 

The electronic prescribing bill was one of five bills related to prescription drugs considered by the subcommittee Tuesday.

The Senate panel sent the full Human Resources committee a bill that would help fill gaps in Iowa’s system for tracking prescription opioid suppliers.

Funk says pharmacists currently have to report to the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) when they dispense opioids.

“There are also physicians where their practice will hand the product to the patient, and that’s not being reported to the PMP and we’d like to capture that to fill in that potential gap that currently exists,” Funk says.

The bill would also allow the Board of Pharmacy to notify providers when it appears a patient may be having a problem with prescription drug abuse.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter