Pharmaceuticals Anonymous

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why does your insurer know what meds you take?

"That prescription you just picked up at the drugstore could hurt your chances of getting health insurance.

An untold number of people have been rejected for medical coverage for a reason they never could have guessed: Insurance companies are using huge, commercially available prescription databases to screen out applicants based on their drug purchases.

Privacy and consumer advocates warn that the information can easily be misinterpreted or knowingly misused. At a minimum, the practice is adding another layer of anxiety to a marketplace that many consumers already find baffling. "It's making it harder to find insurance for people," says Jay Horowitz, an independent insurance agent in Overland Park, Kan.

The obstacle primarily confronts people seeking individual health insurance, not those covered under an employer's plan. Walter and Paula Shelton of Gilbert, La., applied to Humana (HUM) in February. They were rejected by the large Louisville insurer after a company representative pulled their drug profiles and questioned them over the telephone about prescriptions from Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Randalls, part of the Safeway grocery chain, for blood-pressure and anti-depressant medications.

Walter Shelton, a 57-year-old safety consultant in the oil and gas industry, says he tried to explain that the medications weren't for serious ailments. The blood-pressure prescription related to a minor problem his wife, Paula, had with swelling of her ankles. The antidepressant was prescribed to help her sleep—a common "off-label" treatment doctors advise for some menopausal women. But drugs for depression and other mental health conditions are often red flags to insurers."

Read the rest here