I heard from a number of current and former CVS pharmacists in California and elsewhere who confirmed that they were under tremendous pressure from the company to keep refill dollars flowing in. The pharmacists requested anonymity because they either still work for CVS or remain active in the pharmacy business.
None of the pharmacists said they'd been given explicit instructions to refill prescriptions without patient approval. But a CVS pharmacist in Pennsylvania said he had received a call from his district manager after my column ran last week "telling us to stop the practice and only fill scripts if the patients want them."
A pharmacist who said he worked at a CVS branch in Los Angeles from 2006 to 2007 claimed first-hand knowledge that some co-workers weren't canceling claims and refunding money to insurers for restocked drugs. This was done, he said, to boost the store's numbers for evaluations of individual branches.
Virginia Herold, executive officer of the California Board of Pharmacy, which licenses pharmacies and pharmacists, said her agency would investigate CVS if a sufficient number of complaints were lodged by consumers. This can be done online at http://www.pharmacy.ca.gov.
Herold also said this would be a situation in which insurers — including Medicare — should consider filing complaints.
"The insurance company may be paying for something that's not being delivered," she said. "Given the health premiums we pay, I can't believe they would be happy about that."
Wes Davis, 71, of San Dimas said he experienced multiple incidents of ordering refills of his allergy medicine by phone and then finding that CVS had filled the order twice and submitted two claims to his insurer.
"They were double ordering," Davis said. "I would tell them that I only needed one refill, and they would say that they would hold on to the rest for their inventory."
Janet Mace, 66, of East Orange, N.J., told me about her 90-year-old mother who required pain killers and anti-nausea drugs after undergoing surgery for a broken wrist. She filled the prescriptions at her local CVS.
"Then my mother started getting calls from them saying that her prescriptions had been refilled and were ready for pickup," Mace said. "She told them she didn't order any refills, that she didn't want any refills. But she kept getting the calls."
Mace wonders if her mother's insurer, Medicare, was even aware of what was going on.
My hunch: No. But Medicare and other health insurers now might want to pay more attention to the claims they're receiving and whether their patients are actually ordering meds.