Big Pharma and Your Protected Health Care Information: Together at Last

This nice family has no prescription drug coverage. You can tell this not only because they have rather grim smiles, but also because they can’t afford to update their 1970’s panelled kitchen. The photo is tinted in sepia, and it reminds us of the old black and white photos taken of poor Appalachian families during the depression. See?

But now this nice family has help. It’s called the Together Rx Access Card. According to the its website, “The Together Rx Access™ Card has been created to help qualified individuals and families without prescription drug coverage to save on brand-name prescription drugs and other prescription products, as well as save on a wide range of generic drugs.”

How do I know about the Together Rx Program? Well, today a drug rep came to my office asking me to give enrollment cards to my patients who had no prescription drug coverage, so that they could afford her medication. It sounded like a good idea, but being a skeptic, I decided to google the Together Rx Program.

HSS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the man who brought us the HIPAA Health Care Privacy Act, likes the Together RX Program. He even sent out a press release to announce his support for the Together Rx Program. Here’s what Tommy said: “This program will complement President Bush’s ongoing work to expand access to care for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Web MD has an article about the Together Rx Program. Here’s what it says: “There is no cost to use the Together Rx Access™ card, which is accepted at many pharmacies nationwide and in Puerto Rico. Once you’ve enrolled, simply bring the card to your pharmacist along with your prescription, and receive your savings right at the pharmacy counter.”

Let’s enroll, shall we? The enrollment form is easy to use, just a single side of a paper with a place for your signature at the bottom. Hmm…That was easy. Okay, let’s print it out.

Oh, wait. There’s something on the back. I almost missed it, I was so excited to see such a short and easy form. On the back of the form, after the place for your signature on the bottom of the first side, is something called “Program Information” Here’s what it says:

So what companies are associated with the Program? According to the website, Together Rx is a joint effort of the following companies:

There is no information sharing opt out option on the application. I’ll say it again, in case you missed it, and because I think it’s important. There is no information sharing opt-out option on the application. So if Pfizer is the one discounting your meds, they can share information about you with Novartis, who can share that info with Ortho. Then they can all use that information to market drugs specifically to you based on the information they’ve shared with each other. Don’t want to share your information? Too bad, you’ll have to pay full price for your medications.

So, what is Together Rx? It’s a Drug Savings Program and a marketing solution, all rolled up into one. How else could pharmaceuticals sell medications to consumers who otherwise would not buy their products because they can’t afford them? Like any good retailer who has outpriced their market, they’ve lowered their prices. And in return, they are getting free market research, consumer-specific health profiling, AND your personal health information.

As Tommy says in his press release: Together Rx “is a great example of private sector leaders coming together with an innovative solution to a complex problem.”

Photo Credit: Walker Evans. “Bud Fields and His Family, Hale County, Alabama,” 1936–37. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Category: Second Opinions

8 Responses to Big Pharma and Your Protected Health Care Information: Together at Last

  1. This is just a wag, but I have seen similar programs like this, offering free Rx discount cards. Sounds good, but here is something I recently discovered.

    Sometimes, how often I cannot say, the price you pay with the discount card is HIGHER THAN the regular “walk in” price at the drugstore. Yes, that’s right, you could actually pay MORE with the card than you would if you left the card at home.

    Why is this?

    Because the discounts are calculated off a NATIONAL wholesale price. Actual wholesale prices in your area, or at your particular pharmacy may be substantially lower than national pricing.

    I used a similar card at a pharmacy as a price check against a refill. My regular, non-discounted price was $108. The price with the card was $127.

    I put the card back in my wallet and kept the extra $19 . . .

  2. Ah, our old friend Pfizer. My cousin lives in a beautiful, rural, seaside village in Kent, the ‘garden of England’. About 10 miles from her village, in the heart of the English countryside, is another village, about twice the size of hers, a small town actually. It’s the Pfizer factory. About 7 years ago, so rumour has it, local men used to gather oputside it hoping to inhale Viagra fumes….

    Why was I not surprised to find its name here?

  3. I have to thank you for this entry. I am usually quite astute at spotting marketing schemes, having once worked as a marketer myself. But I missed this one. I bought the pharma reps’ excuse that TogetherRx was a plan to keep the heat off the industry for its pricing. It was a method to pre-empt government regulation, I was told.

    I guess I was deceived.

    I think pharmaceutical companies produce good products, but they cannot be trusted.

  4. This just goes to show, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Hopefully the recent elections will help control the cost of healthcare.

  5. I posted this to another blog, not knowing that it was in active. I just thought you might like to hear my thoughts on this mater. As a patient, I would say that you just have to do what you think is right and then let the chips fall where they fall. However, that is not why I chose to reply to your blog. I think it is a real shame that HMO’s and Pharmaceutical Companies have placed themselves between doctors and their patients. There was a time when you would be seen by your doctor and the two of you would decided what the best course of action would be. The doctor understands what needs to be done and the patient should know his own body, plus what he can afford. Now we have companies advertising all kinds of drugs and telling the viewer to talk to their doctor. Oh! They also tell you what problems there might be with the drug and to tell your doctor what medical conditions you might have. Wow! If you are talking to your doctor should not your doctor know what conditions you have? Your doctor already knows what drugs you should be using and what drugs you should not be using. At the very least a doctor has at his/her finger tips information via the internet to access information about a given drug. I imagine that the total amount of available medications for patients, must be an astronomical number. How can you even pretend to keep up with the sheer numbers of this without the help of the internet? I think it is about time for patients and doctors to gang up on the HMO’s and Pharmaceutical Companies tell them we are tired of the abuse to the overall patients health caused by this mess. From personal experience I can tell you that sometimes it is hard to decided whether I should take my prescribed medications or eat. Well that is enough for now. Good luck

  6. Am I missing something here? I was trying to find Pfizer’s name in the sponsors. I didn’t see it. I went to the site and looked at who they say the program sponsors are and Pfizer isn’t in there.

    How is it that Pfizer would get my information in the first place if they aren’t a sponsor of this program?

  7. Michael – At the time this post was written, pfizer’s name was there – see the image above, straight from the website.

  8. I have prescription drug insurance. Not surprisingly, the price of my prescriptions keeps going up and up and up. It has been doing this ever since Congress passed that drug benefit thing. I’ve never forgiven AARP’s part in foisting this on us, and I’m dropping my prescriptions one by one as I find natural alternatives for them. I’m not afraid to die, but I’m really afraid to run out of money.

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