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Pharmacies share medical records with police without warrants

The nation's largest pharmacies hand patients' medical records over to law enforcement without requiring a warrant, a congressional inquiry has found.

The largest pharmacy chains in the U.S. provide patients' prescription records to law enforcement upon request without requiring a warrant, federal lawmakers revealed this week.

The discovery was made through a probe of pharmacies' privacy practices launched by congressional Democrats in June due to concerns over health privacy and surveillance, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade when it ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion and that the matter should be decided by the states.

Since then, 14 states have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with some exceptions, and two others have banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks of gestation. Pro-choice advocates are concerned law enforcement from states where abortion is criminalized may request pharmacy records to confirm whether a woman is prescribed certain medications such as the abortion pill mifepristone.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra dated Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D, Ore.), along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D, Wash.) and Sara Jacobs (D, Calif.), wrote that "through briefings with the major pharmacies, we learned that each year law enforcement agencies secretly obtain the prescription records of thousands of Americans without a warrant."

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"Americans' prescription records are among the most private information the government can obtain about a person," the letter, first reported by The Washington Post, reads. "They can reveal extremely personal and sensitive details about a person’s life, including prescriptions for birth control, depression or anxiety medications, or other private medical conditions."

Wyden, Jayapal and Jacobs are urging HHS to tighten up regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to end the warrantless release of medical records by pharmacies.

The nation's seven largest pharmacy chains, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart Stores, Inc., The Kroger Company and Rite Aid Corporation all participated in the briefings along with Amazon Pharmacy. All of them admitted to sharing records with law enforcement without requiring a warrant, the letter said, and most do not alert customers to such demands despite being legally permitted to do so.

Five of them – Amazon, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart and Walgreens – said they do require legal professionals to review such requests before responding to law enforcement's demands, while CVS, Kroger and Rite Aid "indicated that their pharmacy staff face extreme pressure to immediately respond to law enforcement demands and, as such, the companies instruct their staff to process those requests in the store," the letter states.

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CVS said in a statement that its "processes are consistent with HIPAA," and added, "We have suggested a warrant or judge-issued subpoena requirement be considered and we look forward to working cooperatively with Congress to strengthen patient privacy protections."

Walgreens said the company has "a process in place to assess all law enforcement requests for records that is compliant with HIPAA and other applicable laws," and also said it looks forward to working with Congress on bolstering privacy protections.

Amazon said it cooperates with law enforcement and complies with court orders when required by law, and Amazon Pharmacy "notifies a customer prior to disclosing health information to law enforcement as long as there is no legal prohibition to doing so." The company also said "[r]equests from law enforcement are rare, and represent a very small percentage of the prescriptions we fill for customers."

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Cigna, Walmart, Kroger and Optum did not immediately respond to FOX Business' request for comment, and Rite Aid declined to do so when reached.

FOX News' Ronn Blitzer and Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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