In blow to Amazon’s PillPack, Surescripts terminates contract with data startup

By | September 13, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • Surescripts is terminating its contract with third-party data startup ReMy Health, which is used by Amazon-owned PillPack, alleging fraudulent activity, the company said this week.
  • Surescripts, which handles the vast majority on online prescriptions in the U.S., said ReMy Health requested not only patient medication history but also health insurance and prescription price information, and included National Provider Identifier numbers for physicians who did not have a relationship with the patient, “effectively concealing who was requesting the sensitive patient information.”
  • The move is the latest in ongoing tensions between Amazon and healthcare giant CVS, which, along with Cigna’s Express Scripts and two trade groups, owns Surescripts. Amazon quietly rolled out direct-to-consumer marketing of PillPack’s at-home prescription drug delivery service earlier this year.

Dive Insight:

Surescripts said ReMy Health’s actions didn’t violate HIPAA but did constitute fraud. It said ReMy Health hadn’t taken any action to correct the situation nor did it deny the behavior after it was suspended from the Surescripts network.

“The volume of ReMy Health’s activity was very small, but fraudulent behavior of any kind cannot be tolerated. The steps we have taken with ReMy Health, including termination of our contract with them, are necessary to maintain the integrity of the Surescripts network,” Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton said in a statement sent to Healthcare Dive.

In a statement on ReMy Health’s website, CEO Aaron Crittenden said the claims “are unfounded, false and appear to be part of [Surescripts’] overall market strategy.”

The spat highlights the continued scrutiny of health data privacy. As more people use mobile apps and patient portals to manage their personal health information, provider, payers and IT vendors are grappling with how to ensure security while maintaining ease of access.

Surescripts’ action is key because the health IT vendor dominates the e-prescribing market. The Federal Trade Commission has alleged the company acted illegally to maintain its monopolies. FTC sued it in April, saying Surescripts used exclusivity agreements and threats. Skelton said in a statement then the company “operated fairly” for more than 18 years.

Surescripts said it processed 1.8 billion transactions last year, an increase of 30% from the year prior, and boasted connections to “virtually all” EHR vendors, PBMs and pharmacies.

PillPack spokesperson Jacquelyn Miller said the company hopes it can work directly with Surescripts, “the only commercial clearinghouse for comprehensive medication history in the U.S.”

“We agree with a top Surescripts officer that ‘rely[ing] on a patient’s memory… is sometimes faulty,’ and hope that Surescripts wants patients and their pharmacies to have the most accurate information available to improve patient care,” Miller said in a statement sent to Healthcare Dive.

Amazon bought PillPack in June 2018 for $ 1 billion, and the acquisition was immediately seen as a threat to players such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. PillPack has made limited marketing efforts so far, targeting prime users and people with chronic conditions, but has pursued state licenses to expand distribution capabilities.

CVS, meanwhile, finally got a blessing for its merger settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, having already begun operating as one with Aetna. The company recently expanded its same-day prescription delivery to more locations. 

The retailer has also turned to shoring up its brick-and-mortar offerings, with plans to open 1,500 of its HealthHUB stores that devote 20% of retail space to health services by the end of 2021. The company had no trouble beating analyst expectations for second quarter performance and bumped its estimates for full-year earnings last month.

CVS EVP Tom Moriarty told Healthcare Dive earlier this year its physical locations are key in the fight against online competitiors. “We feel we have a really good model and our ability to act locally is going to make an impact,” he said, adding later, “you are not going to replace the physical element of healthcare.”

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