Bill restricts use of prescription info

February 17, 2009

Gazette State Bureau

HELENA - Drug companies should be banned from using Montanans' personal prescription data to market their products, because it ultimately increases spending on medicine, a Missoula lawmaker said Monday.

Rep. Dave McAlpin, a Democrat, urged the House Human Services Committee to endorse his bill that would prohibit using the information for marketing purposes.

"This bill is a way, on the state level, that we can actually do something about the affordability of health care," he said.

But representatives of biotechnology firms, pharmacies and companies that sell the data opposed the measure, saying it could also prevent beneficial uses of the information, such as notifying people about drug recalls or adverse reactions.

"This is about patient safety for us," said Cindy Laubacher, representing Accredo, a specialty drug company that dispenses high-priced drugs. "We consider this data very critical to their overall care."

McAlpin and others, however, said arguments against the bill are mostly red herrings, because the measure doesn't prevent anyone from using the information for nonmarketing purposes.

"This bill does one simple thing: It keeps your prescription data from being sold for marketing purposes," he said.

McAlpin's House Bill 394 forbids anyone in Montana from disclosing drug prescription records with personal information if that information is used "for marketing a prescription drug or device."

Anyone violating the ban could be fined $10,000 to $50,000 per violation.

Meredith Jacob, a pharmaceutical policy fellow at American University, said Monday that pharmacies and pharmaceutical benefit managers sell data to large "health information organizations" that aggregate the data and then sell them to drug companies.

The information doesn't contain patients' names, but patterns in a physician's prescribing of a certain drug can be ascertained by looking at numbering assigned to the prescriptions.

Jacob said drug companies use the data to determine which doctors are prescribing which drugs to which patients, and adjust their marketing accordingly, to persuade doctors to prescribe more of the company's products.

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