CVS apologizes after a pharmacist refused to fill a transgender woman’s prescription

Posted at 4:50 PM, Jul 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-22 20:19:44-04

Hilde Hall says she went straight from her doctor’s office in April to a CVS pharmacy in her Phoenix suburb, eager to fill her first hormone therapy prescription.

The treatment would spur physical changes in Hall’s body that would reflect her identity as a transgender woman, she said.

“I was finally going to start seeing my body reflect my gender identity and the woman I’ve always known myself to be,” she said.

Her elation quickly turned to anxiety when the pharmacist refused to fill her prescription and humiliated her in front of other customers, she said.

Hall said she called the CVS customer service line twice. When no one addressed her concerns, she decided to file a complaint with the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy on Thursday.

In a statement to CNN, CVS Health said the pharmacist violated its policies and is no longer employed by the company.

“We also apologize for not appropriately following up on Ms. Hall’s original complaint to CVS, which was due to an unintentional oversight, ” the statement added. “We pride ourselves in addressing customer concerns in a timely manner and we are taking steps to prevent this isolated occurrence from happening again.”

The statement pointed out that CVS has a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, which ranks businesses based on their support for LGBTQ equality.

What Hall says happened

The pharmacist did not give Hall a clear reason for the refusal, she said in a blog post describing the encounter published on the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

“He just kept asking, loudly and in front of other CVS staff and customers, why I was given the prescriptions,” she said.

“Embarrassed and distressed, I nearly started crying in the middle of the store,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to answer why I had been prescribed this hormone therapy combination by my doctor. I felt like the pharmacist was trying to out me as transgender in front of strangers. I just froze and worked on holding back the tears.”

She was able to fill the prescription at Walgreen’s with no problem, she said. But she wanted an apology from CVS and an assurance that the drugstore chain does not condone discrimination against transgender customers or anyone else, she said.

“My family supports me, fortunately, and helped me work through the anger and humiliation this experience caused,” she wrote. “But many other transgender people are not as fortunate as I am. I don’t want to think about what might happen if this pharmacist mistreats a transgender person who does not have a good social support system.”

CVS apologizes

CVS, for its part, made good on both requests. The chain said the pharmacist’s action “does not reflect our values or our commitment to inclusion, nondiscrimination and the delivery of outstanding patient care.

“CVS Health extends its sincere apologies to Ms. Hall for her experience at our pharmacy in Fountain Hills, Arizona last spring,” the company said.

The pharmacist violated company policies against denying patients access to medication prescribed by a physician based on a pharmacist’s individual religious or moral beliefs, CVS Health spokesman Mike DeAngelis said Sunday.

“Under federal law and some state laws, we must accommodate a religious conviction that may prevent a pharmacist from filling specific medications. In such instances, the pharmacist is required to notify us in advance about such a religious conviction, so that we can ensure there are other arrangements in place to ensure the patient’s medication needs are promptly satisfied,” he said in an email.

ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Joshua Block said the assurances from the pharmacy chain are important at a moment in time when the Trump administration has signaled its intent to roll back health care protections for transgender and non-binary individuals.

After Hall filed the complaint, a CVS representative contacted her and apologized for the pharmacist’s behavior, Steve Kilar with the ACLU of Arizona said Friday.

“Hilde hopes that CVS will make its nondiscrimination policies public, so that transgender and non-binary customers have some assurance the corporation will take appropriate action if similar discrimination occurs in the future,” Kilar said.