CVS thinks $50 is enough reward for giving up healthcare privacy

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The company also assumes you are aware of what it means to no longer be protected by HIPAA, although, again, it hasn't spelled out the implications of giving up your HIPAA rights.

Nor has CVS disclosed with whom your previously confidential medical information may be shared and for what purposes.

HIPAA prevents drugstores from sharing customers' confidential medical information with insurers, pharmaceutical companies, marketers and anyone else with an interest in what medicines people are taking, said Andrew Hicks at Coalfire Systems, a consulting firm that helps clients comply with HIPAA regulations.

"Without HIPAA, they could be shipping data to who knows where," he said. "As a consumer, you'd have no idea where your information is."

Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said the ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards program "gives members more ways to earn rewards for actions they take to stay healthy, such as filling prescriptions and getting a flu shot."

"We have extensive procedures, stringent policies and state-of-the-art technology in place to protect our customers' personal and health information," he said. "We do not sell, rent or give personal information to any non-affiliated third parties."

By signing the HIPAA release, DeAngelis said, "customers are authorizing ExtraCare only to count the number of prescriptions they are filling as an individual," which allows CVS to determine how much in store credits to allot.

He declined to answer when I asked if CVS believes it is adequately disclosing what HIPAA is or what the potential ramifications could be for those who forgo their privacy rights.

DeAngelis also declined to say what CVS means by stating that customers' health information "may potentially be re-disclosed."

Nor would he comment on an internal memo shared with me by a CVS pharmacist showing that the company sets weekly targets for enrolling customers in its pharmacy rewards program.

One other thing DeAngelis declined to address: Why CVS requires customers to sign a HIPAA release when rivals Walgreens and Rite-Aid do not for their own rewards programs.

All he'd say was that he doesn't believe Walgreens and Rite-Aid "are rewarding customers based on the number of prescriptions filled."

Rite-Aid's wellness+ card offers points every time a prescription is refilled. Points can be redeemed for, among other things, restaurant gift certificates, magazine subscriptions and gym memberships.

"We do not require customers enrolling in wellness+ to waive their HIPAA privacy rights because we do not disclose or share patients' medical information enrolled in this program," said Ashley Flower, a Rite-Aid spokeswoman.

Walgreens' Balance Rewards program also offers points for prescription refills. Points can be redeemed for cash discounts on store purchases.

Rite-Aid and Walgreens have found ways to reward drug customers without violating their HIPAA protections.

What is it about CVS' program that necessitates customers abandoning their federal privacy rights? CVS isn't saying.

But $50 worth of store credits is hardly fair compensation for such a marketing prize.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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