Investigation finds that pharmacies hand medical records over to police without warrant

A Congressional investigation has revealed major pharmacies routinely reveal customers’ medical records to police and the government without a warrant, according to the Washington Post.

In a letter from Congress -- signed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA) -- eight of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains were contacted and three indicated their staff faced pressures to immediately respond to law enforcement and processed those requests in store.

According to the letter, all of the pharmacies said “they do not require a warrant prior to sharing pharmacy records with law enforcement agents, unless there is a state law that dictates otherwise.”

Three pharmacy chains -- CVS, Kroger, and Rite Aid -- have reportedly handed over sensitive medical records without a review by a legal professional.

According to the letter, CVS and Kroger said their pharmacy staff are not lawyers or paralegals, but are trained to respond to requests and can contact the chain’s legal departments if they have questions.

“Americans’ prescription records are among the most private information the government can obtain about a person. 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,” the letter said.

The other pharmacies -- Amazon, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart, and Walgreens -- said they require law enforcement requests to be reviewed by legal before they respond to the requests.

The letter said all eight pharmacies “will turn medical records over in response to a mere subpoena, which often do not have to be reviewed or signed by a judge prior to being issued.”

At the beginning of the inquiry, the letter said only CVS publicly committed to publishing annual transparency reports on law enforcement demands. Walgreens and Kroger have recently adopted the practice.

According to the letter, Amazon Pharmacy was the only company that has a policy of notifying customers about law enforcement requests for pharmacy records -- as long as there is no legal prohibition to do so.

Patients can find out who is accessing their medical records through HIPAA’s “Accounting of Disclosure,” however very few people ever request that information.

According to CVS, the largest pharmacy in the nation by pharmacy revenue, they only received a single-digit number of such consumer requests.

KIRO 7 reached out to Congresswoman Jayapal’s office. She sent this statement:

The results of this inquiry were extremely troubling – medical prescription records are among the most private information the government can obtain about a person. It is critically important that the public understands how their records are being turned over without warrants and that the public is able to push back immediately.

At the federal level, I will continue to work to take Congressional action that can ensure transparency and help protect patients’ information. I will also work to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services include protections in pending rule making.

In addition, there are also steps that the public and state lawmakers can take to protect patient privacy. Many states do require warrants for law enforcement to access medical data, but Washington State is not currently one of them. Public pressure on individual pharmacies to develop policies that limits information sharing when possible is also important. I have prioritized the privacy rights of individuals on many levels here in Congress, and I am committed to continuing to do all I can to ensure that these prescription records stay between patients and their doctors. - Congresswoman Jaypal

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