Health insurer Cigna Corp on Friday agreed to drop its requirement that patients with HIV/AIDS get some of their medications exclusively through its mail-order pharmacy, settling a consumer lawsuit.
California-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, which announced the settlement on Friday, had sued Cigna in April in Florida federal court on behalf of a Fort Lauderdale man. They claimed the mail-order requirement discriminated against HIV/AIDS patients in order to boost profits.
When the settlement takes effect on Dec. 1, Cigna patients will be able to get their drugs at any in-network pharmacy.
The group sought to represent a nationwide class of HIV/AIDS patients, but Cigna agreed to the settlement before the court certified the case as a class action.
Consumer Watchdog claimed that Cigna's policy of requiring patients to buy certain high-cost specialty HIV/AIDS drugs through its mail-order program violated the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, which prohibits discriminating on the basis of patients' medical condition.
It said the program prevented patients from consulting with knowledgeable local pharmacists about the safety of their drug regimens, ran the risk of compromising their privacy when they received drugs in the mail and, in some cases, made the drugs more expensive.
Patients who paid more than they would have through a local pharmacy will be able to seek reimbursement under the settlement, Consumer Watchdog said.
"This settlement will bring to a close a nerve-racking episode for patients with HIV and AIDS who face serious threats to their health and privacy," Jerry Flanagan, lead staff attorney for Consumer Watchdog, said in a press release.
Cigna spokeswoman Karen Eldred said the company had no comment on the settlement, which was finalized in court on Thursday.
Consumer Watchdog reached with United Healthcare and Anthem Blue Cross in July 2014 and June 2013, respectively.
The case is John Doe, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated plaintiffs, v. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 15-60894. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)