Anthem Blue Cross is backing off a decision to require some policyholders to buy their prescription drugs from a single mail-order pharmacy -- a requirement that the California attorney general's office said may be illegal.
Anthem, California's largest for-profit health insurer, said in November that it was imposing the new requirement for so-called specialty medications used to treat major illnesses. The company said the limitation would help keep costs down for patients and businesses.
While that may indeed have been true, I reported last month that California's Unruh Civil Rights Act (Section 51 of the Civil Code) specifies that all people must be treated equally "no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status or sexual orientation."
In response, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris said that any rule that forces some people to buy their meds from one drugstore but allows others to shop elsewhere could violate the law.
"California law clearly states that no one can be discriminated against because of a medical condition," said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for Harris. "If patients are being required to get their prescriptions from a certain pharmacy because of their condition, that is likely illegal."
Anthem is now sending letters to people who take specialty medications informing them that it won't require them to buy their drugs from the online pharmacy CuraScript starting March 1, as originally planned.
"Because Anthem has received feedback about this Specialty Pharmacy program from its members, we are evaluating that input to better serve our members and, for the time being, have eliminated the stated March 1, 2013, required date to use CuraScript for such additional specialty medications," the insurer says in its letter.
"We are working diligently to enhance and make plain the many benefits of our Specialty Pharmacy program, and will clearly communicate all aspects of the Specialty Pharmacy program to you before any changes to the existing program are put in place," it says. "Again, nothing will change on March 1 as previously communicated.