Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SB 1096 DFEATED!! - Bill would have allowed drugstores to share customer prescription records

I have posted a lot about SB 1096 in recent weeks and am pleased to report that the roller coaster ride is over! The final score of the battle to keep prescription drug records private reads California consumers 1 - drug stores, pharmaceutical companies, and drug marketers 0.

To briefly recap: The bill was temporarily defeated in the Senate a few weeks back only to rear its ugly head again and win a razor thin, one vote victory a few days later. As we now know, this "victory" turned out to really be the beginning of it's end. The question is why did the Assembly Health Committee so soundly reject the bill? What changed in recent days?

Here's my theory: The media's increasing scrutiny of the bill's claims (particularly by David Lazarus of the LA Times and Elizabeth Fernandez of the SF Chronicle), the effective and outspoken opposition of advocacy groups like CFC and Consumer Watchdog (among others), and the public outcry this attention generated AGAINST the legislation in the past week created a kind of legislative "perfect storm". And thankfully, our lawmakers were listening, as evidenced by the legislation's near unanimous and bipartisan defeat in the Assembly Health Committee.

SB 1096 failed to garner a single "Yes" vote on Tuesday. Voting against the bill were Committee Chairman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), Vice Chairman Nakanishi (R-Lodi), Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Ted Gaines (R-Roseville), Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), Mary Salas (D-Chula Vista), and Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach). All other members either didn't vote or were absent (8 in total).

CFC opposed SB 1096 (Calderon) because it raised significant privacy and health care concerns for patients. The bill would have created an exception to California's Medical Information Act, and allow the sharing (and essentially the selling) of confidential patient drug prescription information without a patient's consent. The bill's main backer, Adheris Inc., is a subsidiary of inVentiv Health Inc., a drug marketing company (currently being sued for privacy breaches related to patient prescription records!).

With that brief rehash of the past, let's get right to another great piece by David Lazarus...this time discussing the bill's rather stunning, and overwhelming defeat yesterday:

The bill's "source" was a company called Adheris Inc., which used to be known as Elensys Care Services Inc. The company changed its name after it came to light in 1998 that CVS and other pharmacies were sending people's medical info to Elensys without their permission.


One problem with Calderon's bill was its lack of transparency about who would pay for the reminder letters, and which patients would get them. Calderon originally told me that Adheris is paid by drugstores to handle communications on their behalf. He acknowledged Tuesday that drug companies "at times" reimburse pharmacies for their expenses.

That's putting it mildly. Adheris Chairman Mike Evanisko testified before the state Senate's Health Committee in March that funding for the company's activities frequently comes from drug makers.

"The pharmaceutical companies sponsor these programs and [on] some occasions they pay us and we reimburse the chains for their expenses," he said. "And in some cases, the pharmaceutical companies who sponsor these pay the chains, and the chains pay us for providing the service."


Jeff Krinsk, a San Diego attorney who is suing Adheris on behalf of consumers whose prescription information was provided by Albertsons Inc., told me that not only are drug companies paying Adheris and drugstores to fund the letters, they're also choosing which patients receive reminders.

"They only do it for the drugs that are most profitable," he said. "The decision is made by the pharmaceutical companies."

The reason, Krinsk said, is that pharmaceutical companies want to maintain brand awareness among patients taking expensive drugs and deter them from seeking lower-priced generic alternatives.

Here's my favorite piece of the article, apparently Senator Calderon, the bill's author, blames us "conspiracy theorists" for its unfair defeat. Rather than blame the facts for his loss, the Senator should instead take a look at our State's Constitution and maybe ask California consumers if they are okay with their prescription records being shared and sold without consent.

In a statement, Calderon blamed the demise of his bill on "a deceptive campaign of misinformation." "I've read so many inaccuracies in the press and heard so many conspiracy theories about SB 1096 that if I believed it all, I too would have voted against it," he said.

According to public records, Calderon has received at least $89,000 in contributions from drug companies and pharmacy chains since 2002.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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