Why HIPAA law should expand to cashiers and baggers

I dashed into Walgreens last week to buy some unmentionable items ‘for a friend.’ On my way to the checkout, I cruised through the seasonal aisle and snatched two Paw Patrol Easter buckets for my grandsons.

As the perky cashier checked my items she piled my remedies for piles into the Paw Patrol buckets to save plastic bags. I was in a rush to extinguish a fire and didn’t think anything of it.

She commented, “Are these for the kids?” Assuming she meant the buckets, I replied, “Yes.”

Then she did the unimaginable. She laughed and bellowed, “That’s hysterical! My mother did that to my brother one year for Easter. She put a bunch of hemorrhoid treatments in his basket when he asked for a drum set.”

Okay, I’m no prude but do you think I wanted the entire store to know I was buying hemorrhoidal products? And what kind of sadistic grandmother would place these items in an Easter basket for innocent boys? Youngsters whose bodies possess perfect orifices with the exception of an occasional foul mouth when they repeat a bad word they heard at Grandma’s? (In my defense, I had to have a skin graft after the Lego was extracted from my foot.)

HIPAA laws are strict 

This traumatic experience brought to mind HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that has shut the traps of health care workers to the point where we can’t even admit an individual exists for fear of donning an orange jump suit.

Taken to its extreme my husband could call my doctor’s office to ask what time my appointment was and the staff would respond with this broken record. “We cannot confirm or deny that Molly is a real person.” He could beg them to Google my name, review my Facebook profile, or check police beat but they would still insist they couldn’t tell him anything without a release of information, no matter how innocuous the question.

Is it time to hold clerks and baggers to the same standards as healthcare workers?

Over-the-counter options

Do you remember the day when the over-the-counter medication aisle consisted of Bayer aspirin, Tylenol, Tums, and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia? But now when pharmaceutical companies get bored with a drug that used to be available by prescription only they release it into the wild.

This gives us the right to buy drugs without any subsidy from our insurance company and the freedom to soothe everything from dry, itchy eyes to raging fungal infections. I foresee the day when we can buy a no-longer-profitable chemotherapy drug to treat that suspicious mole we’ve been self-monitoring.

Breaches of confidentiality

So you can see why it is important to restrain store employees who now have knowledge of our confidential medical issues. Here’s an imaginary conversation that could occur unless we act quickly to expand HIPAA’s reach.

Bagger (whose browsing history is heavy on Web MD holds up Monistat vaginal cream): “Itchy, huh? Did you buy some yogurt too? I read that helps restore the balance between bacteria and yeast in your body.”
Me: “No I didn’t buy any yogurt.”
Bagger: “Were you on antibiotics? That makes you more susceptible to this sort of infection.”
Me: “Oh my. I forgot to get super glue. Could you please get some for me?”
As the prescriptive bagger jogs to the office supply aisle I roar, “And apply it to your lips!”

Have you had clerks and baggers comment on your medical purchases? If you haven’t, I predict it is only a matter of time until some chatterbox lets your maladies out of the shopping bag.


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49 thoughts on “Why HIPAA law should expand to cashiers and baggers

    • Thank you Nicole. It is so embarrassing to buy certain products. And when you need them you can’t really wait for an online order, can you? Glad you stopped by today and left me a comment. I love comments!

    • You just never know what every day experience will morph into something hilarious, do you Bernadette? I was in sort of a bad mood when I went into Walgreens and left laughing my butt off knowing I had some material for a blog post. LOL.

  1. I just love her! She thinks buying pile cream to give to children as a trick in Easter buckets is a likely explanation. I’m a dissenting voice here – I don’t think these people should ever be silenced! Where would the fun be in that?!

    • If I’m honest I agree with you about my Walgreens’ cashier, Lucy. I had wanted to write an essay about this for a long time and on a boring Saturday morning when I shopped for mundane articles, she gave my imagination and creativity a shot in the arm. I laughed all the way home and sat down at the keyboard immediately and pounded out this blog post. She was my inspiration!

  2. Haha!! My favorite is when I was a single lady picking up a bottle of wine and a frozen pizza on a Friday night and they’d tell me to “Be well! ^_^ ” but with a pity glint in their eye…Haha

    • Haha! I think they were sorry for you because they thought beer would have been a better choice to go with the pizza. But whatever their opinions they need to keep them to themselves, right?

  3. How awful! Some people have no tact. I worked in a novelty shop so I never had strange embarrassing purposes, outside of admitting that someone bought Nag Champa Soap Bars, so I was only person who held the secret that their dirty hippy smell was indeed a rouse.

    I agree with you that privacy should be held for your purchases. I always wonder what associates think of the mixture of random crap my husband and I acquire on a weekly Target haul. Sometimes, if it’s bad, like the time I had hemorrhoids last summer over the poor child who tragically passed at Disney last summer (yes I’m way too sensitive to people I’ve never met) I send Mr. R to buy the embarrassing items such as cream on our own road trip to Disney that week. I was scared of something similar for sure!

    • It is risky business, Jess, to buy delicate items over the counter. I can see why you were reluctant and I’ll remember your strategy of protecting your confidentiality by sending out the Mr.

  4. This one might seriously take the cake (then send it to me, ok? Chocolate…) Cashier to my very young, yet MARRIED, 24 year old self, “Oh!!!! What will you do if this pregnancy test is positive?” To which I replied (after a horrified moment when I glanced at the customer behind me), “Name him Joshua”.

    My first born arrived 8.5 months later and we named him Joshua William. Its all good, but I have never forgotten that strange and awkward conversation!

  5. I just snorted Diet Coke at Gate D2 over this line “Release it into the wild.” ? The day of the plain brown wrapper are long gone. Now, about this curious itching sensation…nevermind, I’ll asked the flight attendant.

    • Be careful with the flight attendants, Lee. Recent news would indicate they are not going to be sympathetic with your condition and in fact might create a few new ones! Hope you have a smooth flight and don’t cause any trouble on the plane.

  6. This reminds me of when I was a young pup, and first got my period. It was embarrassing to buy tampons and have the checker realize that they were for me!! Luckily I’m over that. But I do think cashiers could be a little more (what’s the word) careful? about what they say!!

    • They’ll be more careful when they apply super glue to their lips! Even though I have to admit I judge what other people put in their grocery carts. At least I only write about it my blog instead of broadcasting it to everyone in the store. That’s different, right?

  7. Sort of agree with you there – I wouldn’t have been too happy either. Not that it would have bothered me much, just that it wasn’t any of her business what I was doing. If I wanted her to know I would have told her. I expect she was new and inexperienced.

    As for those HIPAA laws. Wow! That’s strict! I phone up my local doctors office for the wife all the time. Order her repeats, ask for appointments and ask when appointments are. That’s crazy!

    • Wow. That won’t happen here at all. You have to sign a new HIPPA agreement with every doctor visit, they take the privacy laws very seriously.

      • They do here too – but it seems that level of security is only required with banks. I dunno, perhaps it’s because they know us here?

    • As a health care worker, I have to review the law every year and the words that help tie my tongue are prosecution, fines, and incarceration. That’s motivation to keep your mouth shut, right?

      • Same. I agree with you – I’ve worked in Mental Health for 10 years – one slip of the tongue and it can be a MASSIVE fine for me. But for me I had to go through stringent training in law, handling people and personal development. But my pay reflected that! 🙂

        Perhaps it’s maybe time to call for trained over-the-counter workers? 🙂

  8. I haven’t had that happen to me recently but when I suspected I was pregnant with my eldest child 27 years ago and knew nothing about shop bought pregnancy tests. I had made an appointment to see my doctor which was all very private but to get my results I had to ring the surgery days later & the nosy receptionist was the one to say congratulations in front of everyone in the waiting room. However after that I went for buying pregnancy tests from the shop which was just as embarrassing (esp as I had 7 pregnancies) – no one ever said anything but it is just that “look” that they have!

  9. Yes, I think HIPAA should apply–and these cashiers should get some sensitivity training! Although in a case of “turnabout is fair play,” I was recently going through the Hannaford checkout line with a container of Miralax, a package of Dulcolax laxative tablets and a giant container of Gatorade, and felt compelled to announce to the cashier, “It’s colonoscopy prep time!” I think I made her blush.

  10. Oh yeah!! This is big concern!! We need to get on this one right way, Molly! Millions of people are suffering in silence!! (And I am NOT being sarcastic, either!)
    Super glue for every cashier and bagger, I say!!

    • I know, Melinda. Despite the humor there is definitely an element of horror at the reactions and comments from people who know too much about us. They have this little pretend alcove and caution you to stay back away from the pharmacy counter where ‘real’ drugs are dispensed and then it is a free for all at the cash register with the plethora of medical items you can buy in the over-the-counter aisle. It’s not right!

  11. In a word, yes. I live in a small town, and I HAVE had cashiers (who do double duty as baggers) comment on my medically-related purchases. Fourteen years ago, I purchased a home pregnancy test. Both my twelve year old and my three year old were with me at the time. She asked me if I was trying to get pregnant or if this possible pregnancy was an accident, since “there’s such a wide age range in your kids.”

    I WAS pregnant, and later, at my twelve week check-up, we discovered that the baby had died in utero and I had to have a D and C. When my husband filled my prescription following the loss, the same clerk asked him if we were going to try again. This is all with people in line behind him!

    Six month later, I bought another pregnancy test. Same clerk. “Better luck this time,” she said with a smile.

    Even when I wasn’t buying anything personal, the fact that I know she notices and comments makes me feel anxious just going into the store. It made me recall when I was a little girl and my mother would send my siblings and I to the store with a list for her unmentionables, because she didn’t want to be seen purchasing them. I used to think she was crazy to feel that way, but my experiences caused me to feel like she wasn’t so crazy after all.

    • I fear this bagger/cashier has a full medical record with your name on it Crystal. This really is unbelievable! I can definitely see why you have anxiety going into that store with what you have been through. Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. Gone are the days when the clerk quickly put your feminine products out of view averting their eye contact with you. But then we also have the benefit of a flood of TV ads for every personal product from Tampax to Depends making it more socially acceptable to put them on the counter as “no big deal” as if we are buying Kleenex.

    • You are so right, Amy. Is there anything that we don’t hear about in TV ads? The latest drug ad that I hate is the one where the construction worker is making bad jokes about his opioid induced constipation. Hey, buddy, if you’re building a house while on opioids you have bigger problems than constipation!

      • Molly and Amy you both have me in stiches tonight. Ignore/ disregard these clerks / baggers they don’t know you or who you are. Life is to good to worry about it . You girls go out and get a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon kickback, put your feet up and puor a wine glass read book , drink and relax. I love your Blogs

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