According to a report by The Washington Post, the nation’s largest pharmacy chains gave individual prescription records to police and government investigators without a warrant.

The report, based on a congressional investigation, raised concerns about medical privacy for Americans.

“Though some of the chains require their lawyers to review law enforcement requests, three of the largest — CVS Health, Kroger and Rite Aid, with a combined 60,000 locations nationwide — said they allow pharmacy staff members to hand over customers’ medical records in the store,” The Washington Post wrote.

Officials with America’s eight biggest pharmacy giants – Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Cigna, Optum Rx and Amazon Pharmacy – told congressional investigators that they required only a subpoena, not a warrant, to share the records.

More from The Washington Post:

The policy was revealed in a letter sent late Monday to Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.).

The members began investigating the practice after the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ended the constitutional right to abortion.

The revelation could shape the debate over Americans’ expectations of privacy as Texas and other states move to criminalize abortion and drugs related to reproductive health.

Pharmacies’ records hold some of the most intimate details of their customers’ personal lives, including years-old medical conditions and the prescriptions they take for mental health and birth control.

Because the chains often share records across all locations, a pharmacy in one state can access a person’s medical history from states with more-restrictive laws. Carly Zubrzycki, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut law school, wrote last year that this could link a person’s out-of-state medical care via a “digital trail” back to their home state.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, regulates how health information is used and exchanged among “covered entities” such as hospitals and doctor’s offices. But the law gives pharmacies leeway as to what legal standard they require before disclosing medical records to law enforcement.

“We are writing to share concerning findings from a recent oversight inquiry into the privacy practices of pharmacies related to law enforcement demands for patient records. 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. In many cases, pharmacies are handing over sensitive medical records without review by a legal professional. Although pharmacies are legally permitted to tell their customers about government demands for their data, most don’t. As a result, many Americans’ prescription records have few meaningful privacy protections, and those protections vary widely depending on which pharmacy they use,” the letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra read.

“As you are aware, this July we and 44 other Members of Congress wrote to you, urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to revise its regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect Americans’ medical records from warrantless law enforcement agencies’ demands. Since then, we have been conducting oversight into the practices of major pharmacy chains related to their routine disclosure of patients’ medical information to law enforcement agencies. Today we write as a follow up to our July letter and to provide you with the findings,” it continued.

Read the full letter:

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