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Privacy concerns about the Abilify savings card
December 9, 2013 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I was just prescribed Abilify by my pdoc, and as it is really crazy expensive he gave me an Abilify Savings Card, apparently given out by the pharmaceutical company who makes it to allow people who's insurance doesn't sufficiently cover it to buy it anyway. That's fine, but the third party company who runs the card (Otsuka) makes you sign a contract which says that they can share your information with any company they are working with. That sounds to me like any company who wants to buy your information. Is this normal? Acceptable? What are the risks associated with this?

(Asking for my SO, and anon because many mefites know this person).
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should ask one of the mods to update this question with your location.

In the U.S., the relevant term is protected health information (PHI) and the relevant law is HIPAA, which distinguishes between disclosing protected health information for treatment purposes, for business purposes, and for marketing or other purposes.

Treatment purposes means something like referring you to a physical therapy practice and sending your records over for the therapist to read. Business purposes means something like contracting out to a billing agency and telling them about your treatments so they can bill you correctly. These are pretty above-board and unavoidable.

The sketchy one is marketing purposes, which can range from trying to up-sell you on related elective procedures to flat-out selling your information to spammers. It is illegal to disclose your protected health information for marketing or other purposes without your written authorization. You should not provide that authorization.

I was kind of shocked to discover that some places (e.g., Riverside Orthopedics in NYC, don't go there) actually try to slip this stuff in. They'll hand you a privacy policy where the marketing purposes release is buried among twenty other identical-looking bullet points, and then if you ask they'll even verbally reassure you that they would never do such a thing. But if you ask if you can cross out that bullet point they refuse you treatment. It's really scummy. Please be careful.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:02 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Um, this is not legal advice, I am not a lawyer, you should go read one of the surprisingly legible and informative publications put out by the U.S. government about this topic. For example.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:04 PM on December 9, 2013

I have one of these for Qnasl, a nasal steroid. It resulted in my getting massive surveys about Qnasl, which I filled out and for which I received Amazon gift cards. I haven't otherwise seen an uptick in related offers etc. I'm assuming that the sharing of my contact info with the marketing firm doing the surveys is what I signed off on. There's little stigma associated with chronic idiopathic rhinitis so I'm not too concerned for myself but I can see your comfort level being different.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:06 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've also gotten one of these for Crestor, and have not seen any noticeable increase in offers, calls, etc. I'm not blind to privacy issues, nor am I naive about Big Pharma having my ultimate best interests at heart, but my feeling about this is that the blowback in PR were they to do something really skeevy with the info is some protection, anyway. I see no readily foreseeable way that an employer could find out you're taking it via this channel, for example, but if you were worried that more mail might come to your house that signaled something about your condition, that's a legit concern.

As chesty mentioned, it might make a difference were it a drug for some condition I were more interested in concealing, and only you can make that decision.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:54 AM on December 10, 2013

I'm not sure how much HIPAA applies in this situation, since you're voluntarily choosing to give the information that you want a discount on Abilify to this company (in return for a lower copay). You're authorizing them to make a HIPAA disclosure.

Like others say, I doubt the company is going to do anything too invasive with your information; these cards are a HUGE cash cow for the pharmaceutical companies (they reduce your copay by $X but your insurer still has to pay them $10X), and they wouldn't want to screw that up by scaring or annoying people.
posted by mskyle at 7:16 AM on December 10, 2013

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