Vermont didn't make a very strong showing at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. Attempting to defend its law designed to keep data-mining companies from obtaining doctors' prescribing data for resale to pharmaceutical companies, the state ran up against a skeptical set of justices.
The law allows other uses of the same data--for law enforcement and research, for example--but keeps pharma out. And therein lies one of the questions three of the more conservative justices raised. The state cites doctors' privacy rights in restricting the data from pharma's use, but would allow their privacy to be invaded by others, the justices suggested.
Chief Justice John Roberts accused the state of trying to control healthcare costs indirectly, by "censoring" the information doctors can hear, rather than attacking the cost problem directly. Likewise, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the law runs smack into free-speech rights. "You can't lower the decibel level of one speaker," she said, referring to branded drugmakers, "so that another speaker, in this case the generics, can be heard better."
The state's legislature had cited a "massive imbalance of information presented to doctors" in approving the new rules, adding that "the marketplace for ideas on medicine safety and effectiveness is frequently one-sided," the New York Times reports. But if the mood in the court was any indication, Vermont may well have to find another way of correcting that imbalance.