It turns out that a bigger threat to your privacy may not be the government (though they should certainly be high on the list). Believe it or not, the bigger threat may be the remarkably potent combo of your health insurance company and your pharmacy.
What?? Your little ol’ pharmacy down at your grocery store, or your local drugstore?
Yes, indeed, the very ones.
Turns out that the companies operating those pharmacies in your grocery store or drugstore often sell your prescription information to third parties called Pharmacy Benefit Managers.
The Pharmacy Benefit Managers in turn sell your prescription information to two other companies: MedPoint and Intelliscript.
Here’s how it works: you apply for health coverage with any of a number of insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and others. Generally you sign a release giving your authorization for the insurance company to obtain your previous medical history.
Then, for a measly $15 a pop, MedPoint and/or Intelliscript sell your pharmaceutical “profile” to health insurance companies.
Here’s the problem: you may have signed a release for the insuance company to obtain your medical history, but you never gave your authorization for your pharmacy to sell your protected health information to MedPoint or IntelliScript.
Your pharmacy profile includes all the medications you’ve taken, along with a sweet little number that clues the insurance company on how much they might have to pay out on you in the future.
Taking anything “off-label”? Problem. Taking any mental health meds ? Oops. You might very easily be denied coverage.
Those who are particularly vulnerable are those who are self-insured, but even those trying to obtain insurance through their employers can be denied.
For the whole story, read the following: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_31/b4094000643943.htm
Then, contact your Congressional Representative and your state’s Senators. (I know, I know, but it’s a start.) You can also file a privacy complaint with Health & Human Services.
Got a problem with the privacy of your health information? Yes? Did you read and understand the Notice of Privacy Practices your new provider gave you? No? Want more information about how to protect your health information? Leave a comment, or send me an email at email@example.com. And hey, tell your friends about this blog — bet they could use some help with their health privacy, too.