What is ‘white bagging’ and why are legislators working to ban the practice?

Local News

MADISON, Wisc. (WLAX) — An Eau Claire woman’s struggle to get critical medicine covered by her insurance has sparked legislation to ban the practice known as “white bagging.”

White bagging is when an insurance company dictates where a patient’s medications come from, and that is what happened to Koreen Holmes after she found out she had cancer eight months into her pregnancy.

“They say to their insurance payers, ‘You can have this medication but you have to use this specific pharmacy,’ and we call those specialty pharmacies but really their insurer-mandated pharmacies,” Angela Quick, oncology director at the Prevea Cancer Center at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital explained.

Quick said the hospital usually orders medications in bulk directly from suppliers. The hospital pharmacy then stores and mixes the drugs in a controlled environment.

Pharmacy Director John VanderVoort said taking away chain of custody control can be dangerous for patients.

“We don’t have the ability to assure that the transfer was conducted in a manner that was adequate for storage conditions for the medication and medications are required to be stored at a certain temperature and humidity range according to manufacturer guidelines,” he said.

Due to the risks, HSHS Sacred Heart is among hospitals that will not administer white-bagged medicines, which forces patients to choose to pay out of pocket or go somewhere else for treatment.

That is the decision Holmes and her family will soon have to make.

“Koreen had been with us for a really long time,” Quick said. “Her and her husband did not want to transfer her care. They were willing to go into financial debt to keep her health care team.”

For now, Quick said, the insurance company has provided Holmes with an extension and will cover her non-white-bagged medications; however, the extension is only for 90 days.

Lawmakers including Sen. Kathy Bernier and Reps. Jesse James and Warren Petryk are supporting what is being called “Koreen’s Law” to prohibit health insurance companies from mandating the practice of white-bagging.

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