CVS Caremark accused of violating patient privacy

Change to Win, a group of several labor unions, on Friday will launch a campaign alleging that CVS Caremark violated patient privacy and improperly marketed an expensive diabetes drug, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to CTW, a letter sent by CVS to physicians urged them to add Merck's diabetes treatment Januvia to the treatment of certain diabetes patients identified through a review of prescription drug claims handled by CVS Caremark, CVS' pharmacy benefit manager unit.

According to the Journal, CTW believes the practice violates patient privacy rights and the letter is an example of how CVS might be taking advantage of employers that have hired the company to manage their workers' prescription drug benefits. A recent study found that Januvia is nearly eight times more expensive than other diabetes medications. In addition, some medical experts have said older or generic treatments that cost less may be just as beneficial to patients as Januvia. The Journal reports that PBMs in recent years have been accused of favoring treatments that result in rebates from the drugmakers and large profit margins.

A spokesperson for Merck said that the pharmaceutical company paid for the mailing "to help inform physicians about additional treatment options," adding that "no personal information about patient participants in the plan are provided to Merck." A line at the bottom of the letter indicated that Merck paid for the mailing, but Merck and CVS officials have declined to disclose how much the drugmaker paid or whether the mailing campaign helped increase sales of Januvia, the Journal reports.

CVS officials said the company does not attempt to improperly switch patients to more costly treatments. The company officials added that the letter was part of a program intended to inform physicians and that doctors ultimately make the final decision on drug prescriptions.

CTW Executive Director Chris Chafe said his organization -- which is comprised of unions, including Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, which represent about six million workers, including several thousand CVS employees -- hopes that the campaign will help change state laws to force PBMs to disclose to customers all payments or rebates received from drugmakers; cap the amount of patient information PBMs are permitted to disclose; and require that any change in drugs results in lower costs for the PBM's customers (Armstrong, Wall Street Journal, 11/14).

CVS, Community Hypocrites

On November 17th the following memo was distributed to the George Washington University Medical School and School of Public Health:

TO: GWUMC Students, Faculty and Staff
FROM: John F. Williams, MD, MPH, EdD

SUBJECT: Food & Friends “Slice of Life”

DATE: November 13, 2008

Dear Medical Center Colleagues:

At this tim
e of year, I am especially grateful to members of the GW Medical Center community and for our collective work that contributes to the health and well-being of the world around us. I am also more mindful of the individuals that we serve. Those living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other critical illnesses suffer not only from pain and symptoms of their diseases, but from financial concerns due to loss of work and medical bills and daily strain to accomplish simple tasks like shopping or preparing a healthy meal.

This Thanksgiving season, the GW Medical Center has partnered with Food & Friends, a non-profit organ
ization that prepares, packages and delivers meals and groceries to people in the greater Washington area who live with life-challenging illnesses. This year, Food & Friends will deliver full holiday meals to approximately 3,500 clients and their families in the region battling diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer. That’s an astonishing number that speaks to the enormous needs of our neighbors.

I invite you to join me in participating in Food & Friends’ annual “Slice of Life” bake sale. We can help make a difference in the lives of thousands of men, women and children simply by purchasing our holiday pies from Food & Friends. You can buy pumpkin, apple crumb, pecan, or creamy chocolate cheesecake--for your own holiday gathering, or donate them to Food & Friends’ clients to be included with their Thanksgiving meal. The proceeds from each pie will go directly to Food & Friends, allowing them to continue their vital work in our communities.

If you would like to partici
pate, simply call (202) 269-6826 or click here to be directed to the GW Medical Center Team page on the Slice of Life website. You can also find more details on the Slice of Life posters hung around Ross Hall and the GW Hospital. The pies will be available for pick-up on Tuesday, November 25, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at one of 16 CVS pharmacy locations that you select throughout the District and in nearby Virginia and Maryland. As an added benefit for participating, if the GW Medical Center team sells more than 100 pies, our order will be delivered directly to campus.

Please join me in supporting Food & Friends in this worthy endeavor. To date, the GW Medical Center Team has raised $125 for this event—I’m sure we can add to that number. Thank you to those who have already made a purchase. It is my hope that the GW Medical Center community can make a significant contribution to this organization again this year through our support.

With thanks,

John F. Williams, MD, EdD, MPH Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs

PS: The pies are really delicious too!

CVS, WHY are you sponsoring a "slice of life" when you restrict access to condoms that prevent illnesses like HIV/AIDS that plaque the DC community that are you so "generously" serving?

REMOVE THE CONDOMS FROM THE CLICK BOXES and UNLOCK THE CONDOMS. The people of this community would prefer to NOT contract HIV/AIDS in the FIRST PLACE!

Save Lives Free the Condoms PSA