Friday, May 30, 2008

Senate bill OKs druggists' sharing patient files read it correctly. The California Senate suddenly changed their tune, and this drug marketing firm sponsored bill garnered four more votes than it did last week, and sadly WON 21-16.

As the past two posts have pointed out, the legislation allows the sharing and selling of a patients confidential medical information regarding prescription drugs among pharmacies, third party corporations and pharmaceutical companies without the patient’s consent.

Or in other words, California consumers and the right to privacy explicit in our State Constitution lost and big business won. Under this bill, an individual’s private medical prescriptions become commodities to be marketed and sold for the purpose of increasing corporate profit, not improving public health.

Let's remember, drug companies are interested in acquiring every bit of personally identifiable information about patients in order to market their products directly to them. SB 1096 does not require the third party mailer to remove or encrypt personally identifiable patient information – such as a social security number - that it shares with the pharmaceutical company. If information aggregators get access to this data they could then track down such things as your credit and bank account information – a jackpot for company marketers, insurers, hackers, and identity thieves.

A few clips from the San Francisco Chronicle's short follow up article:

"This bill will provide public benefits that will help people live healthier lives," Caleron said.

But critics say the legislation violates patient privacy rights and opens the door for medical identity theft.

"There is nothing more private than our personal medical records, but this bill would let drug companies peek in our medicine cabinet to boost their profit," said Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog. "Once private medical information is transferred electronically, it is vulnerable to theft, accidental leaks and misuse."

Calderon amended the bill after a 17-17 defeat on the Senate floor last week to allow patients to opt out from mailings when they pick up prescriptions.

The bottom line is that SB 1096 gives drug marketing and pharmaceutical companies exactly what they want: a way to increase customer allegiance to their particular brand name through direct mail. In contrast, consumers’ right to privacy is undercut, their identities are more likely to be stolen, and increasing amounts of junk will fill their mail boxes.

The bill’s author, Senator Ron Calderon - who has received $21,690 from drug companies and other bill beneficiaries – added the “opt-out” amendment to appease those with privacy concerns. Whether this was responsible for the sudden turnaround in the Senate is still unknown. However, consumer and privacy protection groups opposing the bill were not swayed.

Opt-out provisions are designed to put the burden on the patient rather than the company looking to profit off them. The fact is a patient’s medical records could initially still be shared without them having given their informed consent to do so. Under “opt-in”, a critical principle of privacy protection is upheld: before a person’s medical records are sold or shared, they must give prior consent to do so.”

Now the bill moves to the Assembly...I'll keep you informed as to its progress.

No comments: