Med Privacy Protected

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A bill that would have allowed pharmacies to sell patient prescription and medical information to third-party companies narrowly passed the California State Senate before failing in the State Assembly.

The bill would have allowed companies including Adheris, Inc., the main business backer of the bill, access to patient medical records in order to mail notices to patients reminding them to take their medication. With outrage over the proposed bill coming from consumers, advocacy groups and medical associations, the California Assembly voted 17-0 against it.

"This bill is marketed as something that it’s not," says Jerry Flanagan, healthcare advocate for Consumer Watchdog and one of the leading critics of the bill. "It’s all about drug companies trying to raise their profits by marketing to people in their mailbox." The mailings would have touted expensive brand-name drugs, rather than encouraging patients to try less expensive, generic versions when available, according to Flanagan.

But Dan Rubin, president of Adheris, denies the bill had anything to do with marketing. "There’s no marketing allowed in the bill," he says. "The bill was meant to address a serious healthcare problem in California" patients not complying with long-term drug regimens. Rubin does concede that "in some instances the drug companies sponsor the program."

Rubin argues that the mailed reminders would have helped with patient compliance in taking prescribed medications. However, Adheris "never provided research on how it would cure that," Flanagan says, adding that "people don’t stop taking their medicine because they forget. They get tired of living under a drug regime." Flanagan proposes patient support groups as a better alternative to helping with patient compliance.

Flanagan calls the bill "deceptive" and "dishonest" and points to the many privacy and medical concerns surrounding the bill. Going against California’s long-held privacy legislation, companies hired to carry out the program, like Adheris, would have access to patient records without their knowledge and consent. And, information would be transferred electronically, making it vulnerable to misuse and accidental leaks, Flanagan says.

The mailings, which would appear to be coming from the local pharmacy, could also interfere with the patient-doctor relationship, and may contradict specific instructions and concerns from the individual’s doctor. "Really, these companies are agents of the drug companies to prop up sales of expensive brand-name drugs," Flanagan says.

Consumer Watchdog
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