And You Thought a Prescription Was Private

Randee Lonergan says a pharmacy sold her prescription history to a local Target without her knowledge.

MORE than 10 years after she tried without success to have a baby, Marcy Campbell Krinsk is still receiving painful reminders in her mail. The ads and promotions started after she bought fertility drugs at a pharmacy in San Diego.

Marketers got hold of her name, and she found coupons and samples in her mail that shadowed the growth of an imaginary child — at first, for Pampers and baby formula, then for discounts on family photos, and all the way through the years to gifts suitable for an elementary school graduate.

Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist in Austin, Tex., who lobbies for privacy rights, said she predicts “a looming battle between the data thieves and those that believe in constructing a digital universe with even stronger protections for the privacy of personal information than we have in the world of medical records on paper.”


Uncovering the identity trade business

When Brandon Michael rolled up a storage-unit door in Denver on New Year’s Day to sort through the contents he had just purchased at an auction, the young man expected to find the usual items he could later sell on Craigslist or eBay: tools, laptops and furniture. Instead, Michael discovered boxes, filing cabinets and trash bags full of hundreds of U.S. passports, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards and other documents — most stolen within the past two years.

He found St. Anthony Central Hospital records containing dates of birth, Social Security numbers and copies of the driver’s licenses of 150 patients who had been admitted into the emergency room or general surgery.

He found drug paraphernalia, pills and the printer used to make counterfeit documents.

“That’s not right that somebody has all this stuff,” Michael said.

“It’s the mother lode of identity theft,” said Sgt. Ryan McGinty of the Denver police check fraud and forgery unit.

Michael’s discovery has prompted investigations by Denver police, Centura Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights.

Data Mining For DOD Health

Contracts naturally come in all sizes, shapes and flavors. Here’s one that’s just plain fascinating.
“U.S. Department of Defense Chooses Phase Forward to Support FDA-Sponsored Drug Safety Initiative.”
That’s the headline of a press release from a drug industry firm called Phase Forward. The contract involves an effort to use powerful data mining software to examine the medical records of some 12 million people, a company spokesman told us.
The stated aim is to improve the safety of prescription drugs through “rapid evaluation of DoD healthcare data on Army active duty personnel, their family members and retirees to determine which potential safety ‘signals’ merit a more thorough investigation through an epidemiological study.

No data-mining zone

1st Circuit Court of Appeals court ruling upholds New Hampshire law preventing pharmacies and data-miners from using physician prescribing patterns for marketing research.

The plaintiffs in the New Hampshire case, data-miners IMS Health and SDI Health (formerly Verispan), argued that the law infringed upon their free speech rights. Industry stakeholders eHealth Initiative, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, SureScripts (now SureScripts-RxHub) and Wolters Kluwer Health filed briefs in support of the industry position. Privacy advocates are thrilled the claims were rejected. Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the San Diego-based World Privacy Forum, a not-for-profit advocacy group, said the decision in New Hampshire case “sets a critical prescedent.”

Palmer Jones, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society was happy with the outcome. “Half of the docs in the country don’t even know that when they write a prescription, that pharmacy company sells that information to data-mining companies,” Palmer said. “Once they understand that, it’s overwhelming.”

Two other states, Maine and Vermont, have similar laws restricting data-mining of health information. The Maine law, also challenged in the 1st Circuit,  was overturned. The Vermont law is currently being challenged in the Second Circuit Federal Courts.

Appeals court backs N.H. law on prescription data

A federal appeals court has upheld a New Hampshire law that aims to block the use of data on physicians’ and other clinicians’ prescribing patterns for drug-marketing purposes.
The decision by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which overturns a trial court ruling, also will establish a legal precedent in a lawsuit by data miners and the pharmaceutical industry they work for in Maine. There a similar law was overturned by a federal court.
It will not have as strong an influence on a third such law in Vermont, which also is tied up in federal court there, because it is in a different federal circuit, according to Democratic Maine State Rep. Sharon Treat, who serves as executive director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a nonpartisan organization of state legislators looking to lower prescription drug prices.

Prescription privacy law upheld

A federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation law making doctors’ prescription writing habits confidential.

The ruling Tuesday by the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston overturns one last year in New Hampshire saying the law unconstitutionally infringed on free speech.

The appeals court said the law, intended to thwart hard-sell tactics by drug companies to doctors, is a valid step to promote the delivery of cost-effective health care.

“Even if the Prescription Information Law amounts to a regulation of protected speech — a proposition with which we disagree —it passes constitutional muster,” the court said.

Federal Court Upholds Drug Privacy Law

A federal appeals court in Boston on Tuesday dealt a setback to the pharmaceutical industry and companies that collect prescription data for use in drug marketing.

Ruling in support of a New Hampshire law, the court upheld the right of states to prohibit the sale of doctor-specific prescription drug data that is widely used in pharmaceutical marketing.

The case is a defeat for two large data-mining companies, IMS Health and Verispan. They sued in 2006 to block implementation of the New Hampshire law, which prohibited the sale of computerized data showing which doctors were prescribing what drugs.

They Know What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet

How insurance companies dig up applicants’ prescriptions — and use them to deny coverage.
That prescription you just picked up at the drugstore could hurt your chances of getting health insurance.
An untold number of people have been rejected for medical coverage for a reason they never could have guessed: Insurance companies are using huge, commercially available prescription databases to screen out applicants based on their drug purchases.
Privacy and consumer advocates warn that the information can easily be misinterpreted or knowingly misused. At a minimum, the practice is adding another layer of anxiety to a marketplace that many consumers already find baffling. “It’s making it harder to find insurance for people,” says Jay Horowitz, an independent insurance agent in Overland Park, Kan.

Privacy advocates seek to protect prescription information

The Coalition for Patient Privacy and 25 of its member organizations are asking Congress not to pass an e-prescribing mandate unless it includes provisions for protecting the privacy of prescription information.
In a letter to lawmakers, the coalition said the sale of prescription information for data-mining purposes has been a reality for more than a decade. “Mandating e-prescribing without privacy provisions endorses and encourages the current practices,” the letter states. “It sets Americans up for even greater violations of their private health records in the future.”

WellPoint Rolls Out Plans for Rx Drug Surveillance System

WellPoint announced plans today to work with FDA and launch one of the first real-time medication surveillance systems, the Wall Street Journal reports. With 35 million members, WellPoint is the largest insurer by membership in the U.S.

Under the system, WellPoint will scan medical claims and medication use data for more than half of its members in hopes of identifying possible safety issues with specific treatments or combinations of treatments.