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You trust your doctor to provide unbiased, comprehensive advice about your healthcare. You depend on your doctor’s knowledge and expertise. And you confide in your doctor because you want to be able to make fully-informed decisions about your welfare. What if your insurance company abused that trust and shared your information to pharmaceutical companies in order to sell more drugs?

According to a group of key labor unions, CVS Caremark and prescription drug giant Merck had just such an arrangement. Apparently CVS Caremark sent letters to doctors who treat Caremark patients suffering from type 2 diabetes and treat with the drug metformin. The letter, which was paid for by Merck, urges the doctors to consider using the new drug Januvia to treat diabetes instead of metformin. Merck manufactures Januvia, which is not available in a generic form. In addition to being a more expensive method of treatment, Januvia appears to be less safe than the decades-old metformin.

CVS Caremark denies that it abused its patients’ privacy when it created the mailing. According to the company, which is the largest pharmacy benefits services provider in the United States and manages over 1 billion prescriptions annually, the letter is part of an ongoing program to improve services to its patients. It argues that the pharmaceutical companies who pay for mailings of this sort do not see patient information and that it is just making doctors aware of new treatments. CVS Caremark is also accusing the union group, known as Change to Win, of launching a “misinformation campaign” and trying to meddle in the affairs of the company.

Even if Merck didn’t see any patient information, should CVS Caremark be trying to influence your doctor’s professional judgment? The fact that CVS Caremark allowed a drug manufacturer to pay for the mailing raises serious doubts about the objectivity of the advice provided. The best way to protect yourself from these potentially detrimental practices is to participate actively in your care and treatment. Be sure to ask your doctor plenty of questions about treatment alternatives.

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