New bill would ban ‘white bagging’ in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wis.
The Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, Wis.(WEAU)
Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 6:29 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WEAU) - A new bill hopes to ban a controversial practice in which insurance companies dictate where certain medications can come from known as “white bagging.”

Known as “Koreen’s Law,” the bill would ban practice in Wisconsin. It’s named after Koreen Holmes, an Eau Claire woman battling cancer at the Prevea Cancer Center at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital.

The bill has sponsors from both parties in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature. They include Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, Reps. Jesse James, R-Altoona, Warren Petryk, R-Town of Washington, and Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer.

Prevea Cancer Center Director of Oncology Angela Quick said the practice is becoming more common amongst insurance companies.

“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,” she said.

Quick said her hospital usually buys drugs in bulk. The hospital’s pharmacy then stores and mixes these drugs in controlled environments.

John VanDeVoort is the Pharmacy Director at HSHS Sacred Heart and Saint Joseph’s Hospitals. He said his pharmacy not having 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.

“They may have gone to another location before they came to that pharmacy. They may have sat on a loading dock for six or seven hours uninventoried. They may have sat in 90-degree heat outside of their refrigerated state. They might have a recall in place that might not have gotten to the hospital’s pharmacy,” Quick said.

Because of these risks, as well as others to patients, and since the hospital is liable for anything that goes wrong, Quick said HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospitals are not administering “white-bagged” medications.

This means patients are forced to choose whether to go somewhere else or pay out of pocket for treatment. That’s exactly the decision Holmes and her family will have to make.

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

Quick said fortunately, Holmes got a 90-day extension from insurance company, which will cover her “non-white bagged” treatments at Prevea during that time period. Unfortunately, when the extension period ends, she will likely have to choose between going elsewhere and potential bankruptcy.

Quick added white bagging affects people with several chronic conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

Marshfield Clinic told WEAU it generally does not administer “white-bagged” drugs. It also supports the legislation.

In a statement to WEAU, Mayo Clinic said:

“Mayo Clinic does everything we can to discourage the practice of ‘white bagging’ medications and supports legislation to prohibit the practice in the interest of patient safety.”

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