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Drug retailer targets HIV patients

GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 3/1/2013, 1:21 p.m.
A class action lawsuit that was filed last month against Anthem Blue Cross in California...
Honoring 20 years of providing HIV/AIDS services in Harlem

A class action lawsuit that was filed last month against Anthem Blue Cross in California could greatly impact HIV/AIDS patients across the country, including thousands who live in the metro New York area.

In response to the complaints and a plethora of negative publicity, the insurance company temporarily suspended the specialty drug mail-order rule.

Consumer Watchdog, a grassroots advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit in January against San Diego's Anthem Blue Cross, claiming that the insurer's mandate requiring HIV/AIDS patients to receive certain drugs via mail order and not at a local pharmacy is discriminatory and a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule (HIPPA). Anthem countered by saying the specialty drug mail-order plan was cost effective. However, due to the complex nature of HIV/AIDS drug treatment regimens, many patients expressed concerns regarding the violation of privacy. For example, the widely prescribed HIV/AIDS drug Kaletra needs to be delivered in refrigerated containers. Plaintiffs in the suit argue that these "special deliveries" to patients would alert their neighbors or co-workers to their illness. "The deferment of the mail-order program is great news for thousands of Blue Cross Customers with HIV/AIDS who were facing risks to their privacy and health," said Jerry Flanagan, an attorney for Consumer Watchdog.

It's unclear how, if at all, the suspension on the mail order program at Anthem Blue Cross in California will affect other insurance companies. However, some metro area patients support the initiative to eliminate the mandate.

"I'm grateful for having health insurance that pays for my HIV meds," said New York writer and editor Oriol Gutierrez Jr. "On the other hand, I'm angry that my insurer forces me to use a specialty drug mail-order program to get the meds." Gutierrez, 43, has been HIV-positive since 1992.

To view the complete Consumer Watchdog lawsuit, visit www.consumerwatchdog.org.