Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bill that would turn pharmacists into drug marketers brought back from dead in last minute legislative maneuver

AB 10 - a bill nearly identical to one ALREADY defeated in the legislature by consumer rights groups during this session - is being brought to a last minute Senate floor vote as early as this week at the behest of drug store chains and a drug marketing company seeking to bypass proper legislative review.

AB 10 would change California's Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to allow pharmacists to deliver paid advertising for drugs that are alternatives to the medication prescribed by the patient's physician at the very moment the pharmacist is dispensing the prescribed drug.

CFC’s opposition to this bill is primarily due to the increasingly intrusive direct marketing techniques used to promote pharmaceutical drugs to consumers - but there are privacy implications to consider here too. For one, the bill requires that consumer’s opt-out if they prefer to not be marketed to by their pharmacist, when it just as easily could have been opt-in - the WRONG precedent to set.

The Privacy Rights Forum points out other potential privacy related problems with the bill in its original opposition letter to AB 1587:

"...the bill does not consider the issue that consumers tend to be confused about the confidentiality of their communications in this kind of blurred advertising context. If consumers, thinking that their communications with their pharmacist are protected under HIPAA (which they are) then take the step to call the phone numbers and use the web sites in the advertising their pharmacist gave them, then those communications from the consumer are not covered under HIPAA. Pharmaceutical companies will be able to use all consumer information they acquire for direct to consumer marketing."

"...the opt-out language in this bill is onerous for consumers. There is no clear, strong prohibition on the marketing use of opt-out infomration by any companies contacted for opt-out purposes."

"...Fourth, the sponsorship disclosures are inadequate. All paid advertising disclosure should also include a very prominent disclosure next to any advertising contact information that informs consumers that any information they give through calling the phone numbers or giving information to the advertiser's web site will not be covered under HIPPA. Consumers need to clearly know that their coommunications with advertisers are not protected under HIPAA."

Click here to tell your Senator to oppose this bill.

Just to add a bit more, these ads would be written and paid for by third parties, including drug companies, but would be presented by the pharmacist to the patient as health information sheets. The effect of the ads would be to suggest to a patient a course of treatment that is different from the treatment prescribed by the patient's physician. Consumers hold pharmacists in high regard in large part because they are neutral experts on pharmaceutical drugs.

By turning pharmacist into drug marketing agents, AB 10 would abuse this trusted patient-pharmacist relationship. We shouldn't change the law to allow pharmacists to make subtle recommendations that call into question the physician's prescribed course of treatment.

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