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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Few things are more valuable in health care than data — specifically prescription data. Surescripts, a company that allows prescriptions to be filled electronically, controls a lot of that data and has every incentive to keep it gated.

Driving the news: Surescripts is asking the FBI to investigate allegations that one of its vendors illegally shared patients' medication histories with Amazon's online pharmacy, PillPack. It's a fight that highlights how difficult it has become for patients to share their own drug data and how incumbent players protect their turf.

How we got here: Surescripts contracted with a reseller called ReMy Health, which gave doctors, hospitals and other prescribers access to data on the drugs patients take or used to take.

Yes, but: Surescripts does not allow pharmacies to access medication history data. That means pharmacists, like those at PillPack, who want to verify someone's prescriptions have to spend the time calling and faxing doctors instead of going directly to Surescripts.

  • Here, Surescripts is alleging ReMy Health was sending that data to PillPack in violation of their contract and that PillPack was requesting data through providers who had never seen its patients.

Background: Surescripts has the backing of powerful players in today's drug supply chain and also has attracted attention for wielding its own market power.

  • Two of the largest pharmacy benefit managers, CVS and Express Scripts, as well as two trade groups representing drug stores own Surescripts.
  • SureScripts is facing a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission, which alleges Surescripts violated antitrust law by using its monopoly power to strong-arm pharmacies and other vendors into exclusively using its services.

"This action we are taking is purely and simply about maintaining trust on the network," Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton said in an interview, after being asked about how the firm's monopoly position factored into this dispute.

The other side: ReMy Health did not respond to requests for comment. A PillPack spokesperson said the company's patients give explicit consent to obtain medication histories.

  • "Given that Surescripts is, to our knowledge, the sole clearinghouse for medication history in the United States, the core question is whether Surescripts will allow customers to share their medication history with pharmacies and if not, why not?" PillPack said.

The bottom line: Something as simple as making sure someone is taking the right medications isn't that simple when there are billions of dollars up for grabs.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

8 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.