Is CVS Caremark Protecting Patient Privacy? The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

By John Coster, RPh, PhD

CVS Caremark claims to have strict waste disposal policies at its retail pharmacies, including the shredding of private patient information and prescriptions.  In fact, New York City residents, especially local CVS customers, recently experienced the opposite: their private information was found blowing in the streets of the East Side of Manhattan, the Daily News reported.

According to the paper, a pile of prescriptions including patient names and personal information was discovered on East 18th Street near a CVS pharmacy’s back door.  As disturbing as this single instance is, CVS Caremark has a track record of similar problems that have fueled allegations that the joint retail-pharmacy benefit manager conglomerate is incapable of adequately protecting sensitive patient information.

  • In 2009 CVS Caremark agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to take “reasonable and appropriate security measures” to protect the sensitive financial and medical information of customers and employees, a violation of federal law.  In a companion agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CVS Caremark paid $2.25 million to settle Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, alleged violations.  The HHS settlement required CVS pharmacies “to establish and implement policies and procedures for disposing of protected health information.”
  • CVS Caremark says it settled for $2.25 million “to avoid the time and expense of further legal proceedings.”  But two years earlier CVS privacy officer Christine Egan admitted “We are not safeguarding customer privacy as we are required to do… It’s sad and intolerable.”
  • In large part, the case stemmed from a 2006 story in which investigative reporters from Indianapolis, IN discovered CVS Caremark records in dumpsters across the county including Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, Louisville, Miami, New Haven (Conn.), Philadelphia, and Phoenix.  Hundreds of private customer records were also found in Woonsocket, RI, the corporate headquarters of CVS Caremark, WTHR-TV reported.

After the merger of pharmacy giant CVS with PBM Caremark, patients complained of improper patient data sharing between the two companies.  During merger talks CVS CEO Tom Ryan assured the Federal Trade Commission that the company would be “agnostic [about] where the consumer fills their prescription.

Questions about whether that standard has been met led consumer and privacy groups to join NCPA in seeking an investigation by HHS and FTC into privacy concerns arising from the merger of CVS and Caremark. This follows a bipartisan Congressional call to join NCPA and others in asking federal antitrust regulators to open an investigation into CVS’s merger with Caremark.

Perhaps the conclusion of that ongoing investigation and the imposition of appropriate remedies will finally ensure CVS Caremark gets the message.

2 Responses to “Is CVS Caremark Protecting Patient Privacy? The Answer is Blowing in the Wind”

  1. 1 john July 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    i would like to know when you folks will stop trying to destroy caremark. it seems that everything I read is how bad caremark is. It appears to me to be a vindetta against the company because of your lawsuit. Whereas the actions like this have no defense, there seems to be a steady stream of negativity spewed forth on your pages, even if the “new” information you offer is not really new. The biggest concern I have for your actions is in regards to your current issues with cvs/caremark’s maintenance choice plan. You seem to have forgotten that prior to maintenance choice, there were many companies that offered manditory mail order only.The clients of caremark that take this option would offer no local support whatsoever, so the NCPA would have no iron in the fire of this matter anyway. Maintenance choice helps the member by giving them an option to go to a local CVS pharmacy when they may have had manditory mail order before. if you truly cared about your patrons, you may not fight so hard to make sure the only way that some have to get their maintenance medications gets dissolved, thus endangering their lives.

  1. 1 Is CVS Caremark’s Medication Adherence Talk Just Lip Service? « NCPA's The Dose – The Voice of the Community Pharmacist Trackback on August 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

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