Texas moving faster than Indiana on prescription privacy problem
Bob Segall/13 Investigates
Area pharmacies caught dumping personal information: 13 Investigates found evidence all over town and across the country. Texas already filed charges against businesses for throwing out sensitive customer information. But is anyone being held accountable in Indiana?
Thousands of sensitive health records on thousands of patients - that's what 13 Investigates found last summer in drug store dumpsters. In some cases, we found pharmacies continued to toss out the private records even after we showed them the problem.
Based on our investigation, the Indiana Board of Pharmacy filed 32 complaints against drug stores, triggering a formal investigation by the state attorney general.
"I think it's very disgusting to see that private information of citizens was not taken better care of," said Attorney General Steve Carter.
At the same time, the US Health Department launched its own investigation to investigate complaints filed by Hoosiers.
All that happened a year ago. So where do the cases stand now?
"I haven't heard back from them," said Virginia McClain, who filed a consumer complaint. "nothing."
McClain says the drug store that tossed out her medical information should be held responsible. She filed a complaint with the government 13 months ago, but now she's almost given up hope.
"If they don't seem like they want to do anything about it, I don't think anybody is going to try to protect people like us," she said.
The Department of Health and Human Services says its case is still ongoing. A spokesman, Bill Hall, told 13 Investigates, "There is no way to tell how long an investigation will take. Some cases take a very long time...I know we're still working on it, but we're not allowed to say anything while a case is pending."
The state of Indiana says its case is still open, too.
"It's more important that we be right when we bring these cases than just rush through to get something on file," said Carter.
Indiana's attorney general says his year-long investigations into local pharmacies might be finished soon.
"We expect some of those to culminate in charges that will be brought before the pharmacy board in the not too distant future," said Carter.
Consumers like Virginia McClain say it seems like it's taking a long time. "I figured within a few months everything would be resolved but apparently not," she said.
That is not the case in Texas. The Texas attorney general is investigating the same type of case and things are moving very quickly.
"Today we have filed a lawsuit against the CVS store in Liberty, Texas," said Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general. He took legal action in April, just a few weeks after his investigators found private customer information tossed out by a pharmacy.
"Our estimates after a quick review of the documents look like there's well over 1,000 documents in the dumpster," said Abbott.
Victims in Texas expected the drug store to face consequences. "They made a bad mistake but obviously they're going to pay for that mistake," said Cora Bechtel, a CVS customer in Texas.
Texans did not have to wait long.
"These investigations move very quickly," said Paco Felici, Texas attorney general spokesman.
Staff at the Texas attorney genenral's office say they work fast in these types of cases because when it comes to identity theft the stakes are high. "The consequences can be devastating. Very often it's a matter of just a few days between us finding this information and being able to put together the evidence to be able to go into a courtroom."
It only took a few days for action in Texas, while in Indiana, it's been a full year. And Texas goes one step further. Investigators there don't wait for a reporter to dig through the trash. They do that job themselves.
"For lack of a better term we do have a dumpster diving team," said Felici. "It's for us a relatively small price to pay to get our hands dirty to make sure that down the line, we don''t have a family whose life is turned upside down because someone perpetrated identity theft against them."
"It's very important that this be a complete and thorough investigation before any charges are brought," said Steve Carter, Indiana attorney general.
Officials in Indiana say cases like these cannot be rushed. Federal regulators say the same thing. So for now, the investigators keep on investigating and consumers like McClain keep on waiting.
This year, Texas has filed charges against all kinds of businesses for throwing out sensitive customer information. It's important to point out different states have different laws. States like Texas have much more aggressive consumer protection laws than Indiana.
We''ll keep following this story so if and when formal action is taken against Indiana pharmacies, we'll let you know.