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Picking up prescription medications could soon be as easy as buying a candy bar in Colorado — if a new bill from the state House is passed into law.

House Bill 1195 would allow pharmacies to use automated “vending machines” to dispense prescription medications to patients. The machines could be put in hospitals, health clinics or retail pharmacies, and could operate outside of regular pharmacy hours so patients have more time to pick up their medications.

The House approved the bill in a 58-4 vote on Friday, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

“This bill removes unnecessary barriers to improve access to the medication patients need,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “Coloradans with long or untraditional working hours often struggle to access the prescription medication they need because their pharmacy’s hours often don't align with their work schedule.”

Under the bill, patients would need to provide their prescription and interact virtually with a pharmacist via a video call on the machine in order to pick up their medication. The medications would be pre-counted and stocked in the machine.

The machines could dispense any medications, including opioids.

The bipartisan-sponsored bill received broad support from both sides of the aisle, though the four representatives who voted against the bill were all Republicans: Scott Bottoms of Colorado Springs, Brandi Bradley of Littleton, Ken deGraaf of Colorado Springs and Stephanie Luck of Penrose. None explained their “no” votes.

During a committee hearing on the bill, some raised concerns about people breaking into the machines to access opioids, but proponents of the bill said the machines are “exceptionally theft proof” and would be monitored at all times.

Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, said in addition to helping working class people who can’t visit pharmacies during working hours, these machines could expand access to medication for people in rural or underserved areas without nearby pharmacies.

“This is one of those major bills,” Soper said. “They allow for better access whether in a health care facility or in a rural setting. ... The possibilities are certainly almost endless here.”

Automated prescription dispensing systems are already allowed in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, according to the health care technology company MedifriendRx.

Several groups, including Kaiser Permanente, University of Colorado Health and the Colorado Retail Council, are backing the bill. No organizations registered or testified in opposition to the measure. 

The House’s passage of HB 1195 came on the same day that Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 1071 into law, expanding the number of potential prescribers in Colorado by making qualifying psychologists eligible to apply to prescribe mental health medications to their patients.

Polis and Democratic state legislators also rolled out a package of health care bills this week, which they say is intended to increase access to and reduce costs for health care in Colorado.

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