Drug Companies Want Your Prescription Info

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Three pharmaceutical trade groups are attempting to appeal a Vermont law that restricts drug companies’ access to prescription info.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard a case against a Vermont law that restricts the access pharmaceutical companies have to information about what drugs doctors and other prescribers give to their patients. Known as data mining, drug companies could use the information they would receive from prescribers to target doctors who frequently prescribe generics and try to get them to prescribe more expensive brand-name drugs to their patients.

Three pharmaceutical trade groups – IMS Health, Verispan and Source Healthcare Analytics – sued the government claiming that the law violated their commercial freedom of speech, since it restricts the marketing procedures they can use to sell their products.

Prescription drug marketers already have access to certain commercial information through outlets like pharmacies, but this data still doesn’t tell companies where the prescription is coming from and it doesn’t give them access to any specific patient data.

Vermont’s 2007 Prescription Confidentiality Law gives doctors the freedom to choose whether or not to release identifiable information on prescriptions that they recommend to their patients. The law is intended to give doctors a larger say in what is being marketed to them.

Bridget Asay, Vermont’s assistant attorney general, likened the law to giving doctors a way to avoid junk mail or telemarketing sales at inconvenient hours of the day and night.

“Drug companies would certainly like to have this information for marketing, but they have no First Amendment right to demand it, just as they have no right to demand access to the doctor's tax returns, his patient files or to their competitors' business records,” Asay told the Supreme Court.

However, Lisa Blatt, a representative of the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America (PHARMA), said that the First Amendment doesn’t pick sides and that the existing law does.

“The law bans manufacturers from speaking to physicians based on prescriber data unless the doctor has previously authorized such use on his licensing form,” Blatt wrote in a letter to the court. “No such ban applies to insurance companies and other market participants that use the same data to convey their views about medicines to physicians.”

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