Barbara De Maria received calls from her local CVS store in Glendale recently saying that her son's prescription had been automatically refilled, as per his instructions.
Problem was, De Maria's son had given no such instructions, and the prescription was for a temporary skin problem, not any type of chronic condition. No refills were needed.
Even worse for CVS: De Maria, 60, works in the drug industry and knows a thing or two about how the game gets played.
"These automatic refills have become a standard industry practice," she told me. "They have become very prevalent."
Federal and state authorities launched investigations into unauthorized refills after I wrote columns about how CVS and other drugstores were routinely signing up customers for automatic refills without their approval.
CVS, for its part, blamed the practice on rogue drugstore managers and insisted that the company's official policy was that customers are always asked before being enrolled in ReadyFill, the chain's refill program.
But I've obtained company documents showing that CVS pharmacists are expected to enroll at least 40% of patients into ReadyFill. Failure to do so, pharmacists say, can result in reduced compensation or even being fired.
Some CVS pharmacists have told me that, because of the investigations, company managers quietly told them to ease up on the automatic refills. But recent reports of people still being enrolled in ReadyFill without approval indicate that not all stores have gotten the message.
Indianapolis resident Bill Rainsberger, 55, said he was notified by his local CVS recently that a refill was ready for a medicine he'd already stopped taking.
"I never, ever signed up for automatic refills," he said. "I didn't even know they had such a thing."
Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, declined to answer when I asked what steps the company has taken to reduce incidents of people being enrolled in ReadyFill without their permission.
He said only that customers can call (800) SHOP-CVS, or (800) 746-7287, to report any prescription-related problems.
De Maria works as a sales rep for a leading drug company. After she received the calls from CVS about her 23-year-old son's prescription being refilled, she headed straight to the pharmacy.
She said she asked a worker how her son had been enrolled in ReadyFill. The worker insisted that he must have asked to be included in the program.
"So I told her to show me the proof that he'd signed up," De Maria recalled. "Show me anything that proves this. She couldn't do it."
De Maria told me that pharmacies and prescription benefit managers — the companies that manage drug benefits for insurers and employers — have realized there's a lot of money to be made from automatic refills.
"They bill insurers for it, they get paid for it," she said. "And most of the time the prescription isn't picked up and it goes back on the shelf, although the insurer might not be reimbursed."
At CVS, De Maria said, the store's pharmacist eventually got involved and agreed to remove her son from ReadyFill and reverse the prescription so that her insurer would be paid back.
"As the pharmacist was fixing things, I told her I couldn't believe that they were still doing this," De Maria said. "Hadn't they had enough negative press?"
What did the pharmacist say?
"She just shrugged and said, 'I don't know what to tell you.'"
Complaints can be filed with the California Board of Pharmacy at http://www.pharmacy.ca.gov.
Feeding the hungry
There could be a breakthrough on the horizon when it comes to preventing food from being thrown out by Los Angeles hotels, caterers and restaurants.
A city-funded organization called L.A. Shares has specialized for years in salvaging furniture, electronics and other items from businesses. The goods are provided free to hundreds of schools, charities and other worthy causes.
Bert Ball, executive director of L.A. Shares, told me that the group will expand in coming months to rescuing prepared foods as well.
"We can help get leftovers to those who need them," he said. "The city of Los Angeles has hundreds of awards shows every year, and each one comes with meals. That food shouldn't get thrown out."
What L.A. Shares will offer is a little different from what I've proposed in past columns: a nonprofit service that could collect food from caterers and restaurants and deliver it quickly to charities. L.A. Shares will instead serve as a middleman for donors and recipients.
As Ball explained it, the organization will reach out to some of the city's top caterers and ask them to notify L.A. Shares in advance any time they're serving meals at an event. Charities would be able to go online and reserve a share of any leftovers and arrange to have the food picked up.
Think of it as an online clearinghouse for prepared meals — a Craigslist of catered goodies.
"The only requirement we have is that the recipient write a 'thank you' letter to the donor," Ball said.
For more information about becoming an L.A. Shares food donor or a registered recipient, contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.