Albertsons Faces Privacy Lawsuit

(September 14, 2004) Two affiliated consumer advocacy organizations in San Diego have filed a lawsuit against supermarket chain Albertsons Inc., alleging violations of patient health privacy under California laws.

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons operates more than 2,500 stores in 37 states under the names Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Albertsons-Osco, Albertsons-Sav-on, Sav-on Drugs, Osco Drug, Super Saver, Shaw's and Star Market.

The suit alleges Albertsons, on behalf of 16 pharmaceutical manufacturers named as co-defendants, improperly used identifiable information from prescriptions to send mail to or call patients reminding them to refill their prescriptions, or suggesting alternative medications. The Utility Consumers Action Network and The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse filed the suit, available at www.privacyrights.org/ar/pharmcomplaint.htm.

In a press release, Albertsons disputed the allegations, saying it never has sold patient data and pledging a vigorous defense.

Albertsons did not share patient data with the drug companies--which paid for and helped design the solicitations, says Jeffrey Krinsk, counsel to the plaintiffs and a partner in the San Diego-based law firm Finkelstein & Krinsk. But the use of the data for marketing purposes without patient authorization is prohibited under California privacy laws, he adds.

The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, asks that Albertsons be ordered to stop the marketing program and return to customers the funds it has received from pharmaceutical firms under the program.

The lawsuit does not seek protections or remedies under the federal HIPAA privacy rule. Plaintiffs elected to sue under California's more stringent privacy laws, Krinsk says.

Krinsk says he will argue that the court's jurisdiction applies to all Albertsons stores that participate in the marketing program regardless of their location because the telephone calls originate from California and thus are regulated under that state's laws. Most of the letters have not originated from California, and it will be up to the court to decide if letters sent outside the state are subject to the jurisdiction of the court, he adds.

Posted to HIPAAcomply 9/15/04