Extortion Threat Shows Importance of Protecting Prescription Drug Privacy in California and the Nation

10 Nov Extortion Threat Shows Importance of Protecting Prescription Drug Privacy in California and the Nation

Both president-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain backed electronic medical records during their campaign. Computerizing patient data, which could increase efficiency and cut costs, is part of every major federal health reform proposal. But what are the rules for this data? An extortion threat reported last week, and involving up to 50 million patients’ prescription drug records, shows the huge risks in letting unregulated for-profit companies take charge of Americans’ medical records. The company, called Express Scripts, not only had a serious hole in its data security, it also isn’t doing nearly enough to help its clients. Express Scripts is a pharmacy benefit manager, handling prescription drug plans for clients including insurance companies, employers and union health plans. It covers about 50 million people. Yes, 50 million. It’s a very profitable middleman job in the health industry. Here’s what happened, according to the NY Times story: The company said Thursday that it had been investigating the threat since early October, when it received a letter that contained personal information on about 75 of its members including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, prescription information. Wouldn’t you want to know if your information may have been stolen? Don’t look to Express Scripts for much help. The company has called in the FBI, but it hasn’t personally notified any of its patients, except for the 75 people named in the extortion letter. So the company waited a month before going public. Its stated reason, according the Wall Street Journal, is that it wanted to “get the investigation up and running” first. Pardon my suspicion, but I think Express Scripts was waiting to se e if it got reports of identity theft. It says it hasn’t, but how would most of us even know that a credit problem was linked to a huge but nearly anonymous “pharmacy benefits manager?”

California Progress Report, By Judy Dugan, November 10, 2008