California rep backs ban on scrip data-mining

Another state is trying to put up a wall between drugmakers and patient prescription data. California state Assemblyman Bill Monning has introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of doctors' prescribing habits for marketing purposes, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports.

The California proposal is modeled on an existing New Hampshire law that has drawn fire--and lawsuits--from pharma and market-data firms such as IMS Health. Predictably, pharma and data-mining companies are now lobbying against the bill, while the California Medical Association and AARP California are both for it.

The issue in a nutshell is this: Data-mining critics say that the practice puts too much power in the hands of drugmakers and their sales reps. "This legislation is important because it removes one tool used by drug companies to attempt to manipulate doctors' decisions," CMA president-elect James Hinsdale tells the Sentinel. The bill would help "protect doctors and their patients from overzealous drug companies."

But pharma defends the practice, saying that prescribing data allows drugmakers to get necessary info about drugs--new and old--to the right doctors. "With safeguards in place to ensure proper use," PhRMA's Ken Johnson says, "prescriber data should be available to America's pharmaceutical research companies so they can continue to provide important new information about medicines to the physician community." And the data-miners themselves have argued that selling the information is a free-speech right.

The New Hampshire data-mining law was upheld by a federal appeals court and then allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear a constitutional challenge to the law. Meanwhile, a U.S. Circuit Court allowed a similar law in Vermont to go into effect last July despite efforts by IMS Health to fend it off.

- read the Sentinel story