Court rules man can sue Costco for disclosing his erectile-dysfunction prescription

Photo: ImagePixel, okskaz

This story has it all, folks—Costco. Erectile-dysfunction drugs. HIPAA violations. Join me on this journey, won’t you?

The Associated Press brings us news that the Arizona Court Of Appeals has ruled in favor of an Arizona man whose erectile-dysfunction prescription was the subject of some good-natured joking between a Costco pharmacy employee and the man’s ex-wife. Hoo boy. The male customer sued Costco for violating his privacy under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act, commonly called HIPAA. The acronym has become shorthand for the expectation of confidentiality between health-care providers, pharmacists, and patients.

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A trial-court judge dismissed the man’s case, but the Court Of Appeals ruled that sections of his lawsuit involving negligence under HIPAA may proceed, setting him up to potentially be awarded punitive damages.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in 2016, when the Arizona man, who is in his 50s, received a free sample for an erectile-dysfunction medication. Costco subsequently called him to tell him he had a full prescription ready for pickup at the pharmacy; the man canceled the prescription. He then cancelled it again a month later when he found out the prescription was still waiting for pickup.

A pharmacist at the north Phoenix Costco where the prescription was held then joked with the man’s ex-wife about the erectile-dysfunction prescription when she came to the counter to collect one of his other medications (with his authorization). Costco reportedly apologized to the man and admitted it was both a violation of his privacy and the company’s own policies.

“What I’m saying is as a pharmacist you have a duty to keep my client’s information private,” the man’s attorney, Joshua Carden told the AP. “And on top of that you have a duty to cancel his unwanted prescriptions so that [an incident] like this doesn’t happen.”

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The case now returns to a lower court.

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Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.