The Ohio Department of Health says it isn’t purposely delaying release of documents related to a mailing last year that could have publicly identified 6,000 HIV-positive Ohioans. But others have their doubts.
It has been more than 10 weeks since The Dispatch requested records relating to the department’s decisions that led to the mailing by CVS, which undertook the work even though the department’s request for proposals said the state would handle it.
But so far, the Department of Health hasn’t provided those documents. Nor has it said why it signed a deal making CVS pharmacies the exclusive recipient of $8.1 million in annual federal HIV drug assistance, when some experts say the arrangement disrupts the care some patients are getting.
The 2017 mailing to all the participants in the Ohio Drug Assistance Program sparked outrage because just above recipients names was printed “PM 6402 HIV” — an egregious violation of patient privacy, critics say.
Ohio Open Records laws require that “all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection.” Yet a July 2 request for copies of emails, texts and other written communication relating to the mailing remains pending.
Spokesman Russ Kennedy last week said that the health department “has been working on your request which required program staff to review thousands of their emails to identify communication with CVS, and then review each to redact any protected health information (while also fulfilling their regular job responsibilities) ... I noted that process had been completed, and Legal staff had begun reviewing the emails/written communications to ensure that (personal health information) has indeed been redacted. Legal’s review of these records continues — I have asked them whether we can at least give you the records for which they have completed their review, and I’m awaiting a response.”
Terry Kilgore, a Cleveland-area attorney isn’t buying it.
“They’re stonewalling you,” said Kilgore, who is suing CVS in federal court on behalf of three anonymous HIV patients whose status may have been made public by last year’s mailing. “There’s no good reason for them not to give you that information.”
The administration of Gov. John Kasich, which controls the health department and the Ohio Department of Medicaid, does a lot of business with CVS. In addition to the HIV program in the health department, CVS is pharmacy-benefit manager to four of Ohio’s five Medicaid managed-care plans — meaning the company controls billions in annual spending on prescription drugs.
Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling was asked whether the governor was OK with how long the Department of Health has taken to respond to questions about the CVS-HIV mailing.
“Each agency handles their public records requests, and I know Health is always particularly careful because of the sensitivity of their work,” he said in an email. He added, “As you know, the governor’s office doesn’t get involved in any contract of requisition decisions. Never have and never will.”
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis on Friday reiterated his company’s earlier statement that his company has addressed the issues that led to last year’s problematic mailing.