California Senate Passes Bill That Would Amend the State Confidentiality of Medical Information Act

by Susan Haigney,

Sacramento, CA (May 29)‘The California Senate passed SB 1096 on May
29, voting to amend the state’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to
allow pharmacies to provide third parties with patient information for the
purpose of mailing prescription refill reminders and drug information directly
to patients. The bill now moves to the California Assembly.

California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act prohibits health care
providers and health service plans from sharing or selling patient information
for marketing or other purposes without the patient’s authorization. SB 1096
would amend that Act to ‘allow a pharmacy to mail specified written
communications to a patient, without the patient’s authorization under specified
conditions.’ The conditions limit information to prescription label language of
only doctor-prescribed medication with instructions to contact a physician if
the patient has questions. The mailed communications are prohibited from
mentioning other products or medications that have not been prescribed by the
patient’s doctor. Medications involved are limited to certain diseases listed in
the bill.

The state senate rejected an earlier version of SB 1096 because it did not
give patients a clear enough way to opt out of the program. The bill was revised
to include a provision that the pharmacy offer patients the ability to opt out
of receiving mailed information at the time the patient picks up their
medications. Patients would also have a phone number to call or a Website to
visit to stop receiving mailings at a later date.

Supporters of SB 1096, introduced by California State Senator Ron Calderon,
suggest that written, mailed information would encourage proper use of
prescribed medication. A California Senate Health Committee Analysis of the bill notes
a 2007 study released by the National Council of Patient Information and
Education that estimated that only half of patients take their prescribed
medication. Another study from the Journal of American Pharmacy
showed that reminding patients to take their medication had
positive results. Supporters suggest that improper use of prescribed medication
results in millions of dollars in Medicaid costs and drug-related

However, opponents of the bill, like the Consumer Federation of California
(CFC), insist the bill violates patient privacy and may interfere with the
doctor-patient relationship. In a letter posted on the
organization’s Website
, the CFC stated that the bill ‘is a significant
intervention by drug companies into the physician-patient relationship. We
believe a patient’s doctor is the best source for informing a patient about how
to manage his or her health condition.’ The CFC believes that such mailings
might confuse certain patients, especially senior citizens, if they receive
contradictory information from what they have been told by their doctor. ‘This
kind of direct interference in the doctor-patient relationship is potentially
dangerous to patient health.’ According to the CFC, the company sponsoring the
legislation, Adheris Inc, may directly benefit from the bill. Passage of the
bill could possibly invalidate a 2004 lawsuit filed against Adheris for mailing
personalized letters from pharmacies to patients, according to the CFC.

SB 1096 can be downloaded here.