California Senate Passes Bill That Would Amend the State Confidentiality of Medical Information Act

Jun 05, 2008
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Sacramento, CA (May 29)—The California Senate passed SB 1096 on May 29, voting to amend the state’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to allow pharmacies to provide third parties with patient information for the purpose of mailing prescription refill reminders and drug information directly to patients. The bill now moves to the California Assembly.

California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act prohibits health care providers and health service plans from sharing or selling patient information for marketing or other purposes without the patient’s authorization. SB 1096 would amend that Act to “allow a pharmacy to mail specified written communications to a patient, without the patient’s authorization under specified conditions.” The conditions limit information to prescription label language of only doctor-prescribed medication with instructions to contact a physician if the patient has questions. The mailed communications are prohibited from mentioning other products or medications that have not been prescribed by the patient’s doctor. Medications involved are limited to certain diseases listed in the bill.

The state senate rejected an earlier version of SB 1096 because it did not give patients a clear enough way to opt out of the program. The bill was revised to include a provision that the pharmacy offer patients the ability to opt out of receiving mailed information at the time the patient picks up their medications. Patients would also have a phone number to call or a Website to visit to stop receiving mailings at a later date.

Supporters of SB 1096, introduced by California State Senator Ron Calderon, suggest that written, mailed information would encourage proper use of prescribed medication. A California Senate Health Committee Analysis of the bill notes a 2007 study released by the National Council of Patient Information and Education that estimated that only half of patients take their prescribed medication. Another study from the Journal of American Pharmacy Association showed that reminding patients to take their medication had positive results. Supporters suggest that improper use of prescribed medication results in millions of dollars in Medicaid costs and drug-related hospitalizations.

However, opponents of the bill, like the Consumer Federation of California (CFC), insist the bill violates patient privacy and may interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. In a letter posted on the organization’s Website, the CFC stated that the bill “is a significant intervention by drug companies into the physician-patient relationship. We believe a patient’s doctor is the best source for informing a patient about how to manage his or her health condition.” The CFC believes that such mailings might confuse certain patients, especially senior citizens, if they receive contradictory information from what they have been told by their doctor. “This kind of direct interference in the doctor-patient relationship is potentially dangerous to patient health.” According to the CFC, the company sponsoring the legislation, Adheris Inc, may directly benefit from the bill. Passage of the bill could possibly invalidate a 2004 lawsuit filed against Adheris for mailing personalized letters from pharmacies to patients, according to the CFC.

SB 1096 can be downloaded here.

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