Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bill would let pharmacies sell medical records

I thought I should briefly follow up on the coverage SB 1096 is receiving, as its ramifcations for individual privacy, particularly of ones medical records, are signficant.

The article in the San Francisco also featured my take on the bill:

The legislation would allow pharmaceutical firms to send mailings directly to patients. Supporters of the proposal say the intent is to remind patients to take their medicine and order refills. But consumer privacy advocates are outraged.

"This bill would be a windfall for corporations seeking to track, buy and sell a patient's private medical records," said Zack Kaldveer, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of California. "This would represent a significant intrusion by pharmaceutical companies into the privacy of patients.

"By opening this Pandora's box, consumers could wind up receiving mailings designed to look as if they came from the pharmacy yet conflict with what their pharmacist or doctor has recommended. Such a scenario would be a threat to their health."


A primary backer of the bill is Adheris Inc, a subsidiary of a drug marketing company that was sued several years ago under its former name for privacy violations. Adheris is involved in a pending class-action lawsuit in San Diego involving the same issues in the Calderon bill. California has one of the nation's strongest medical privacy laws. Under the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, direct mail marketing to patients by pharmaceutical firms is not permitted.

The bill is coming up for a second vote in the Senate on Thursday, with an amendment that allows an "opt-out" option for consumers. Of course, as anyone that cares about privacy issues knows, opt-out is not sufficient, it must ALWAYS BE, particularly when it comes to ones private medical records, an opt-in provision.

Think about it. "Opting-out" of the program rather than requiring businesses to obtain the informed and affirmative consent of the patient before sharing their private medical records is just another way to place the burden on consumers. Allowing us to opt-out only after our privacy has been violated is no solution. Under opt-in, the consumer is in control of their medical records, and no business can share them unless WE give them permission.

Consumers should have the right to expect their private medical records will be held in confidence by their doctors and pharmacists. Without giving people the right to decide whether their private information can be shared and sold, the confidentiality central to the trust that develops between a patient and his or her doctor is undermined. This in turn could make patients more reluctant to give doctors the information they need to provide optimum care.

Further, the last thing today's consumer needs is MORE junk mail, or a law that increases the likelihood his or her identity could be stolen and his or her right to privacy be violated just so multi billion dollar corporations can increase their profit margins.

If the California legislature wants to honestly and effectively address the health needs of the people they should focus their efforts on making health insurance more affordable and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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