CVS asks customers to sign away drug privacy

In exchange for waiving your rights under federal law, the drugstore offers $50 to join its prescription rewards program.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 16, 2013 1:36PM

A woman carries a bag as she leaves a CVS store in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009 (Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg via Getty Images)Updated at 3:49 p.m., ET.


How much is your prescription drug privacy worth? The answer, according to CVS Caremark (CVS), is $50. 


The drugstore chain is offering customers up to $50 a year in store credits for enrolling in its ExtraCare rewards programs, which was expanded earlier this year to include prescription drugs. 


But the issue with the program is that it requires customers to sign a HIPAA authorization, which in effect means consumers are signing away their privacy rights, David Lazarus reports in the Los Angeles Times. 


On top of that, CVS fails to clarify to customers exactly what HIPAA is, Lazarus charges. If you're like most folks, you may be vaguely aware of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, perhaps encountering it at a doctor's or dentist's office while filling out paperwork. 


HIPAA provides a raft of safeguards enabling individuals to find out how their health information is used and limiting how your data is shared, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.


But that's not entirely clear from CVS' website. On the FAQ posted there, the question "Why do I need to sign a HIPAA authorization?" gives only this as the answer: "The HIPAA Authorization allows CVS/pharmacy to record the prescription earnings of each person who joins the ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards program."


By signing the form, customers are giving CVS the green light to share information about their drug purchases, including with pharmaceutical companies, Lazarus notes. 


"It's very troubling," Privacy Rights Clearinghouse director of policy Paul Stephens told the publication. "Your medical information is very sensitive. Pharmaceutical companies obviously would want to know what you're taking and get you to buy more expensive medicines."


But CVS maintains that the company is only counting the number of prescriptions that it fills for individual customers. "This HIPAA Authorization is required to reward individual members for the prescriptions they fill," spokesman Mike DeAngelis wrote to MSN moneyNOW in an email. "We do not sell, rent or give personal information to any non-affiliated third parties."


The company doesn't "redisclose" patients' personal information, he added. The program has 70 million active cardholders.


To be sure, the move might be just the latest example of corporate America's push into customers' lives. Nordstrom (JWN), for instance, tracks customers' movements through their cellphones' Wi-Fi signals, while Progressive offers a discount if customers allow their driving to be monitored. And let's not forget the granddaddy of them all, the U.S. government's wiretap program


Still, CVS rivals Rite-Aid (RAD) and Walgreen (WAG) don't ask customers to sign away their privacy rights, Lazarus notes. Whether $50 is a fair exchange for medical information should be something customers think hard about before signing it away.


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 


More on moneyNOW

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22Comments
Aug 16, 2013 1:58PM
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I will never give my business to a CVS pharmacy again.  They are becoming as collectivist as any Soviet republic.  First they ban employees from tobacco use (even as they continue to sell tobacco), then they card you for buying nail polish remover, now they effectively want to eliminate medication privacy?   When did they become the nanny that told you what you could and couldn't do?  Is this company run by Michael Bloomberg?

 

Only do business with your local pharmacy.  Chain pharmacies are full of corporate whores.

Aug 16, 2013 2:29PM
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I recommend against using CVS pharmacy. I used to obtain my prescription for oral contraceptives at CVS. I was forced to change over to a grocery store pharmacy; because no matter how far in advance I notified the CVS pharmacy, THEY NEVER, EVER, EVER had my Rx available.

This was a common prescription. Giving them a weeks notice did no good. When I went to pick up, I was told "we'll have to order that from another store"

Aug 16, 2013 3:36PM
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I worked for them, or rather they bought my company so I'm not surprised. I worked for one of the companies they bought, as a health care professional (not in the CVS stores,) but when we learned CVS purchased us we were not happy. We heard all kinds of horror stories from the folks on the CVS side from how they treated their employees to severe understaffing issues... then we got to experience it first hand. After 1 year, they started cutting benefits, bonuses, perks we had signed on with (in our offer letters!). I personally had 10 years in with the company. They just cut our salaries time after time, stopped the cost of living increases and any raises and actually had the nerve to tell us that in this economy, we were lucky to have jobs! That would have been okay with us if they were losing money or not making huge profits. All the while, they made bigger profits every year. No matter, they just slashed everything in the name of the bottom line and eventually closed most professional services divisions, laying off thousands of long termemployees, including my division. Of course, I have a personal reason, but I don't trust them and will never set foot in one of their dirty, poorly run stores again... 
Aug 16, 2013 2:05PM
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Does this also include their mail order pharmacy which many of us are forced (by employers) to use?  I have not encountered this as of mid August.  However, it is a very frightening prospect!!!
Aug 16, 2013 4:07PM
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NEVER sign away any of your privacy rights.
$50 will get you facing possible identity theft. Not worth any amount of money.
CVS should be federally investigated for this practice -especially under HIPAA laws.

Aug 16, 2013 3:44PM
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I will NEVER use CVS again. I went to fill a prescription after dental surgery and had a rather large gentleman hover over me from behind. When I asked him to step back and give me room to finish my business he threatened me and when I complained to the person behind the counter I was told I should " take a chill pill " neither the manager or corporate offices did anything to address my concern. I was left completely embarrassed . I will never go back!!!!!!
Aug 16, 2013 2:52PM
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They used to give you extra care bucks for your prescriptions without signing away any rights.  Why did it change in the first place?
Aug 16, 2013 2:30PM
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When we as citizens allowed Healthcare to be a For Profit business all was lost.
We think it's all right that COPS control the drugs in this Country.  Yes, COPS, the DEA controls all the drugs in this Country.
Not Doctors, but COPS.
My Doctor is afraid of the DEA.   It doesn't make any sense why we don't want every citizen to have access to healthcare.  If we as a Nation are Healthy, we are more productive. And it costs less in the long run.

Why is Health care tied to your job??? Stupid.  You should just work off of the assumption that everything you do,say and buy is kept track of somewhere.  Use CASH

Aug 16, 2013 3:29PM
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American greed. CVS used to have this same policy without making people sell their privacy. But, the company wants to guarantee they no longer have to maintain customers' privacy. CVS does not want to abide by rules, like shredding anything containing your privacy. They now have the right to post your medication history, medical conditions, home address and phone number in the newspaper. By agreeing to these terms, your neighbors and employers can seek all the information they want because you signed those rights away. CVS wants to ensure they can sell your information, and profit from their rewards program. Next they'll offer to sell your privacy back to you for $1000, while you receive up to $50 in rewards to purchase overpriced company products (which they also track and sell).
Aug 16, 2013 3:44PM
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What, Me Worry ??? What privacy do you expect with Obamacare? If your answer is anything more than 1/10 of 1% you are an idiot.
Aug 18, 2013 6:47PM
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Worst out there, except Walgreens.  Everything overpriced at Walgreens, gift certificates not usable for most items in store or under any circumstances for website buys.  Not that they tell you that until you try to use one.  Far better off going to walmart or your supermarket.  Walgreens will end up costing you far more on everything.
Aug 17, 2013 4:36PM
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Thanks for the heads up.  I will never darken their door again.
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