The conditions referenced in the complaints were unrelated to abortion, the statement said, noting that "millions of people around the country take the drug methotrexate for chronic conditions, including cancer, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. It can also be used off-label in very high doses to treat a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy."
CNN reported that in October 2022, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the agency was investigating chain pharmacies over the complaints, resulting in an HHS Office for Civil Rights compliance review of CVS and Walgreens.
The Office for Civil Rights on Friday said in its statement that Walgreens' and CVS' actions resolved complaints filed against the pharmacy companies.
“Access to timely medication is critical to all Americans, including women with disabilities and women experiencing pregnancy loss, and we’ve taken steps to ensure they are not discriminated against in accessing care,” Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in the statement. “The overturning of Roe v. Wade is causing chaos in our health care system, including in our pharmacies, where health care providers are suddenly being asked to not only provide health care, but also become legal experts in navigating the patchwork of abortion bans. Women with disabilities, women experiencing pregnancy loss or seeking contraceptives should not be subjected to delays or discriminatory behavior simply because of their gender. CVS and Walgreens are taking voluntarily steps to help patients navigate this new reality.”
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The pharmacies' new procedures include use of special teams to provide internal guidance and respond to complaints, creating direct paths for customers to submit complaints, new training of reproductive health care and monitoring denials of medication related to reproductive health care, OCR's statement said.
The voluntary actions by Walgreens and CVS require the companies to dispense drugs for the purpose of abortion, the statement said. The procedures also include a pledge by the companies to "evaluate potential accommodations where pharmacy colleagues object to dispensing prescription medication."
Last July, OCR released released guidance reminding pharmacies that, "as recipients of federal financial assistance, including Medicare and Medicaid payments, pharmacies are prohibited under law from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, age and disability in their programs and activities. Pharmacies are obligated not to discriminate on these grounds with regard to supplying lawfully prescribed medications; making determinations regarding the suitability of prescribed medications for a patient; and advising a patient about prescribed medications and how to take them."
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Walgreens declined to comment. CVS did not immediately respond to Crain's request for comment.
A CVS spokesperson told CNN in a statement, “We have a long history of supporting and advancing women’s health and are pleased that the Office of Civil Rights has closed its investigation. We remain committed to filling prescriptions for FDA-approved medications consistent with state and federal laws, providing all patients with convenient access to pharmacy care, and resolving any service issues that may occur in a timely manner.”
This story first appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.