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January 1, Warrantless Police Access: Pharmacies Spill Your Medical Secrets

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The largest pharmacy chains in the U.S. provide patients’ prescription records to law enforcement upon request without requiring a warrant, federal lawmakers revealed this week.

The discovery was made through a probe of pharmacies’ privacy practices launched by congressional Democrats in June due to concerns over health privacy and surveillance.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, 14 states have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with some exceptions, and two others have banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Pro-choice advocates are concerned law enforcement from states where abortion is criminalized may request pharmacy records to confirm whether a woman is prescribed certain medications, such as the abortion pill mifepristone.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., wrote that “through briefings with the major pharmacies, we learned that each year law enforcement agencies secretly obtain the prescription records of thousands of Americans without a warrant.”

“Americans’ prescription records are among the most private information the government can obtain about a person,” the letter reads. “They can reveal extremely personal and sensitive details about a person’s life, including prescriptions for birth control, depression or anxiety medications, or other private medical conditions.”

Wyden, Jayapal, and Jacobs are urging HHS to tighten up regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to end the warrantless release of medical records by pharmacies.

The nation’s seven largest pharmacy chains — CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart Stores, Inc., The Kroger Company, and Rite Aid Corporation — all participated in the briefings along with Amazon Pharmacy.

All of them admitted to sharing records with law enforcement without requiring a warrant, the letter said, and most do not alert customers to such demands despite being legally permitted to do so.

Five of them — Amazon, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart, and Walgreens — said they do require legal professionals to review such requests before responding to law enforcement’s demands.

CVS, Kroger, and Rite Aid “indicated that their pharmacy staff face extreme pressure to immediately respond to law enforcement demands and, as such, the companies instruct their staff to process those requests in the store,” the letter states.

CVS said in a statement that its “processes are consistent with HIPAA,” and added, “We have suggested a warrant or judge-issued subpoena requirement be considered and we look forward to working cooperatively with Congress to strengthen patient privacy protections.”

Walgreens said the company has “a process in place to assess all law enforcement requests for records that is compliant with HIPAA and other applicable laws,” and also said it looks forward to working with Congress on bolstering privacy protections.

Amazon said it cooperates with law enforcement and complies with court orders when required by law, and Amazon Pharmacy “notifies a customer prior to disclosing health information to law enforcement as long as there is no legal prohibition to doing so.”

The company also said “[r]equests from law enforcement are rare, and represent a very small percentage of the prescriptions we fill for customers.”

Cigna, Walmart, Kroger, and Optum did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Rite Aid declined to do so when reached.

Why It Matters (op-ed)

Pharmacies sharing medical records with law enforcement without warrants is a blatant infringement on individual privacy rights. This revelation, discovered by congressional Democrats, raises concerns about health privacy and surveillance.

The potential misuse of this information, especially in states where abortion is criminalized, is alarming. Law enforcement could access prescription records, such as the abortion pill mifepristone, to confirm if a woman has undergone an abortion.

It’s essential that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tightens regulations under HIPAA to end this warrantless release of medical records. Pharmacies must be held accountable for preserving patient privacy while still cooperating with law enforcement when necessary.

As our loyal readers, we encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions on this issue. Let your voice be heard and join the discussion below.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. K

    December 19, 2023 at 7:19 pm

    Welcome to the United States of Communism. Where your every move (physical or digital) is tracked without warrant, stored forever, and analyzed so they can better control you.

    Accountability needs to find its way home to those usurping powers the constitution doesn’t grant them.

  2. Recce1

    December 19, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    We must get stringent with such law enforcement requests. We have a Bill of Rights for a reason.

    Not only should warrants be required, the store should also be required to notify customers within 24 hours if such requests were made and what the store did.

  3. Sunshine Kid

    December 19, 2023 at 8:43 pm

    Democrats love to invade your privacy, don’t they?

  4. Patch Cooley

    December 19, 2023 at 10:44 pm

    When necessary? What does that mean? When the police request or demand it? Necessary to who? The police for their investigation, or necessary to save the patients life. Their is a big difference.

  5. Donald R Cook

    December 20, 2023 at 12:44 am

    Abortion is Murder, so the true Police should know about the Criminals, killing babies.

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