Prescription refill pressure bothers CVS pharmacists too

"Everyone knows that if we don't hit our quotas, people can lose their jobs," one pharmacist says. Despite what CVS documents show, a spokesman says the chain does not use quotas to determine compensation.

Chris Cullum normally gets his prescriptions filled at a CVS Caremark store in San Diego. But, while traveling, he placed orders at a CVS branch in Arizona this year and at a branch in Illinois last year.

In both cases, Cullum said, he subsequently received calls from the stores in those states letting him know that refills were ready.

Two things make this noteworthy. One: Cullum, like other CVS customers who have related similar experiences, never signed up for the pharmacy's automatic-refill program, ReadyFill.

Two: Cullum is a CVS pharmacist.

He's been dispensing meds for the drugstore since CVS bought Longs Drugs in 2008. He'd been with Longs for eight years before that.

And Cullum, 52, doesn't appreciate what he says is pressure from his superiors to refill prescriptions and enroll people in ReadyFill without their approval.

"We refill prescriptions that were not ordered by the patient or the doctor," he told me. "Everyone knows that if we don't hit our quotas, people can lose their jobs."

Officials at the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services are investigating whether the refill practices constitute Medicare fraud. Regulators in California and New Jersey also have launched investigations.

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis denied that the company pressures pharmacists to refill prescriptions or enroll customers in ReadyFill without their permission.

I've been in touch with dozens of CVS pharmacists nationwide since first reporting that the country's largest provider of prescription medication has refilled orders and submitted claims to insurers without patients' permission. Most asked that their names be withheld because of fear they could lose their jobs.

Cullum is one of two CVS pharmacists in Southern California who agreed to be identified discussing the company's operations. Both said they were frustrated with what they view as a system intended primarily to boost revenue by locking in as much repeat business as possible.

"ReadyFill is very important for CVS," said Cullum, who works at one of the company's San Diego stores. "They make sure we all know it."

Company documents previously obtained by The Times from current and former pharmacists have shown that CVS workers are expected to enroll at least 40% of patients into the program. Failure to do so can result in loss of raises or bonuses.

Other drugstores, notably Target, Rite Aid and Walgreens, have similar quotas, pharmacists at those stores have said.

"There's tremendous pressure," said Charles Franklin, 66, a pharmacist at one of CVS' Whittier stores. "You feel like your job is always on the line."

He acknowledged having enrolled customers in ReadyFill without receiving their say-so.

"You have to," Franklin said. "There's no way you can reach the 40% metric unless you do it."

What was going through his head at the time?

"I was thinking that this would allow me to hit my number for another four weeks," Franklin replied. "I was thinking that I'd have a job for another four weeks."

CVS' DeAngelis said that, despite what the company's own documents show, CVS does not use quotas to determine employees' compensation.

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.



Business Midday Get daily business news sent directly to your inbox for free weekdays at 1 p.m.

After signing in, click on your username at the top left of this screen and then on "My Newsletter Subscriptions."