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Blue Cross Suspends Mandatory HIV/AIDS Drug Mail Order Program

2:02 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Pills and Bills

In response to consumer complaints and a class action lawsuit on behalf of HIV/AIDS patients in California, Anthem Blue Cross has agreed to suspend a program that would have barred patients from purchasing certain specialty medications at local pharmacies. Under the program, patients would have been required to obtain their medications by mail order, threatening their health and privacy according to the lawsuit.

Blue Cross announced the suspension of the mail order program in a letter arriving in consumer’s mailboxes this week. Download a copy of the letter here.

“The deferment of the mail order program is great news for thousands of Blue Cross customers with HIV/AIDS who were facing risks to their privacy and health,” said Jerry Flanagan, staff attorney for Consumer Watchdog.

The lawsuit, filed last month in San Diego Superior Court by Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas LLC, alleges that the mandatory mail order program illegally targets HIV/AIDS patients. The lawsuit further alleges that due to the complex nature of HIV/AIDS drug regimens, patients rely on their local pharmacists who, working directly with the patients, monitor potentially life-threatening adverse drug interactions, and provide essential advice and counseling that helps HIV/AIDS patients and their families navigate the challenges of living with a chronic and often debilitating condition.

In addition to the health concerns raised by the change in their continuity of care, HIV/AIDS patients have expressed serious concerns associated with a loss of privacy due to the proposed mail order program. For example, HIV/AIDS specialty medications often need to be delivered in refrigerated containers. Patients who live in apartment buildings or need to have their drugs delivered to their place of employment are concerned that neighbors and co-workers who are not aware of their condition will come to suspect that they are seriously ill.

Under the mail order program announced by Blue Cross in December and slated to go into effect on March 1, 2013, HIV/AIDS patients’ insurance policies would have no longer covered medications purchased at local pharmacies.

The deferment is intended to allow Blue Cross, Consumer Watchdog, and Whatley Kallas LCC time to develop a more consumer friendly program.

“Blue Cross should be commended for listening to the serious and heartfelt concerns of their customers who depend on local pharmacists for their life-saving medications,” said Edith Kallas of Whatley Kallas LLC. “We look forward to working with Blue Cross to ensure its mail order program benefits consumers without unfairly targeting its most vulnerable patients and providing them appropriate opportunities to choose what is best for them.”

Download the lawsuit filed by Consumer Watchdog and Whatley Kallas, LLC here.

Anthem Blue Cross Tells Patients Needing ‘Specialty Drugs’ To Use the Mail

1:27 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Double Cross
In its quest for more profits, Anthem Blue Cross has begun telling patients who have very serious diseases and need so-called “specialty drugs” that they cannot use their local pharmacy where many have long term relationships, but must instead order their life-saving medications from a mail-order pharmacy.

As Los Angeles Times Consumer Columnist David Lazarus recently noted, specialty drugs are used for complex conditions and can cost thousands of dollars a month. Patients suffering from chronic diseases like HIV, cancer, and hemophilia use such medicines.

In the Los Angeles area HIV patients are particularly hard hit by Anthem’s unilateral decision that after Jan. 1, patients needing specialty drugs to treat their conditions must buy them from mail-order pharmacy CuraScript.

In a letter to patients, the insurance giant wrote:

“Using a retail pharmacy will be considered going out-of-network. And your plan doesn’t have coverage for that. So you’ll have to pay the full price of the drug.”

According to Lazarus Jacques Liberman, 57, of Cathedral City received one of the letters the other day. He is HIV-positive and takes a drug called Atripla to help prevent his condition from transforming into full-blown AIDS.

“Who is Anthem to tell me where I have to buy my medicine?” Lazarus quoted him as saying. “Why should I have to buy it from some mail-order company instead of the drugstore that I have been going to for a long time?”

But it’s more than just an in infringement on personal freedom. Patients who need specialty medicines suffer from complex disease that require complex treatment. The pharmacist is virtually a member of the treatment team offering advice and closely monitoring the patient’s condition.

David Balto, a Washington attorney who represents some of the specialty pharmacies, explains the relationship like this:

“Specialty pharmacies, the pharmacies that carry these rare, expensive drugs, build strong personal and clinical relationships with their patients, making sure that they receive the drugs they need when they need them. Most also provide a full slate of advising and counseling services to help patients and their families navigate the challenges of living with a chronic and often debilitating condition. Many specialty pharmacies also have programs to help low-income patients afford their ever rising co-pays.”

Anthem proposes to replace that relationship with an 800 number. Anything for a buck, I suppose.

What’s not clear yet is what can be done to stop this abuse. Consumer Watchdog is investigating. If you’ve been affected by the change please let us know.