Complaint Alleges that a Walgreens Executive Violated Ethics Code

An executive of Walgreen Co. abused his position as the Indiana Board of Pharmacy (IBOP) President to help gain approval for a controversial Walgreens pharmacy model called “Well Experience,” an ethics complaint filed today alleges.

Change to Win Retail (CtW) Initiatives and Common Cause Indiana filed the complaint with the Office of the Inspector General.  The watchdog groups charge that Ethics Code violations by Walgreens Manager of Pharmacy Affairs Bill Cover and pharmacy board staff corrupted the regulatory process and led to the board approving a pharmacy format that creates risks to public health and patient privacy.

Heavily redacted emails show involvement from Walgreens Executive, and then-current Indiana Board of Pharmacy President Bill Cover.

Indiana law prohibits state appointees from participating in decisions in which they or their employer have a financial stake in the outcome.  Heavily redacted e-mails obtained through the state’s Access to Public Records Act show that Cover was central to the Board’s Well Experience decision-making process and that he used his position on the board to secure special privileges for Walgreens.

The e-mails illustrate inappropriate involvement in the approval process including: Cover’s collaboration with IBOP staff to provide information from Walgreens to other board members; his deliberation on regulatory issues regarding Well Experience with the board’s executive director; and his solicitation of board members’ concerns before any public discussion about Well Experience.

[View a Timeline of Emails Sent Between Cover and IBOP Staff]

According to the complaint, Cover and the board improperly kept the approval process from public view. The board held secret meetings with Walgreens management in Illinois deliberately arranged to circumvent Indiana laws requiring open meetings.

“Walgreens and the Board of Pharmacy’s disregard for Indiana’s executive branch ethics policies is deeply disappointing,” said Julia Vaughn, Policy Director of Common Cause Indiana. “Good policy is rarely made behind closed doors, and it is simply unacceptable for anyone to take advantage of their position in state government to advance the interests of a private company.”

Additionally, neither Cover nor the board appear to have sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission regarding Cover’s conflict of interest, as required by state statute.

“We believe Well Experience is a deeply flawed pharmacy model that increases risk to patient privacy and public health, and in Indiana, there was an equally flawed process to approve it,” said Nell Geiser, Associate Director of Retail Initiatives at CtW.

This month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Department of Health and Human Services is investigating patient privacy violations at Well Experience pharmacies. Several state boards of pharmacy have either prohibited the pharmacy format or have required modifications.

The Indiana Board of Pharmacy was the first in the nation to approve the model in July 2011.  Walgreens has roughly 50 Well Experience pharmacies in the state. Cover remains a member of the pharmacy board and was its president from February 2011 to January 2012.