A company that manages prescription drug costs for West Virginia's health insurance plan says it sold information about prescriptionswhat doctors wrote and what public employees tookto two unidentified data-mining organizations.
St. Louis-based Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager for the Public Employees Insurance Agency, stopped the practice Oct. 1 at the state agency's request, according to a letter obtained by the Charleston Gazette.
Advocates of ending the disclosures say drug companies boost income by using the information to encourage doctors to prescribe brand-name medications instead of cheaper, generic equivalents.
"They use this information in a very sophisticated pitch, and it drives up brand-name drug costs," said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
The Nov. 14 letter from Express Scripts was in response to a request from Legislative Manager Aaron Allred, whose office is conducting an audit of the West Virginia agency. In it, an Express Scripts executive says the company never sold Public Employees Insurance Agency information directly to pharmaceutical manufacturers, but Public Employees Insurance Agency medication data was sold to two healthcare "data aggregators." These middlemen typically compile and analyze prescription information and then sell it to drug companies.
"Express Scripts is complying with the state of West Virginia's request and is no longer providing nonidentifiable physician prescribing information to data aggregators," company spokeswoman Rita Holmes-Bobo said in a prepared statement.