Labor Unions Challenge CVS Caremark Over Marketing of Rx Drugs
Change to Win, a group of several labor unions, on Friday will launch a campaign alleging that CVS Caremark violated patient privacy and improperly marketed an expensive diabetes drug, the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to CTW, a letter sent by CVS to physicians urged them to prescribed Merck's diabetes treatment Januvia to diabetes patients identified through a review of prescription drug claims handled by CVS Caremark, CVS' pharmacy benefit manager unit.
According to the Journal, CTW believes the practice violates patient privacy rights and the letter is an example of how CVS might be taking advantage of employers that have hired the company to manage their workers' prescription drug benefits.
A recent study found that Januvia is nearly eight times more expensive than other diabetes medications. In addition, some medical experts have said older or generic treatments that cost less are just as beneficial to patients as Januvia.
The Journal reports that PBMs in recent years have been accused of favoring treatments that result in rebates from the drugmakers and large profit margins.
A spokesperson for Merck said that the pharmaceutical company paid for the mailing "to help inform physicians about additional treatment options," adding that "no personal information about patient participants in the plan are provided to Merck."
A line at the bottom of the letter indicated that Merck paid for the mailing, but Merck and CVS officials have declined to disclose how much the drugmaker paid or whether the mailing campaign helped increase sales of Januvia, the Journal reports.
CVS officials said the company does not attempt to improperly switch patients to more costly treatments. The company officials added that the letter was part of a program intended to inform physicians and that doctors ultimately make the final decision on drug prescriptions.
CTW Executive Director Chris Chafe said his organization hopes that the campaign will help change state laws to:
- Force PBMs to disclose to customers all payments or rebates received from drugmakers;
- Cap the amount of patient information PBMs are permitted to disclose; and
- Require that any change in drugs results in lower costs for the PBM's customers (Armstrong, Wall Street Journal, 11/14).