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.
"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."