Data Companies Challenge N.H. Prescription Law

Friday July 28, 6:05 pm ET
By Beverley Wang, Associated Press Writer

. CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Two medical data companies moved quickly Friday to challenge New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation law restricting their access to doctors' prescription information.

IMS Health Inc. and Verispan LLC, both headquartered in Pennsylvania, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court asking a judge to declare the law, which is less than a month old, unconstitutional.

The companies, which collect, analyze and sell medical data, say the law, which bans the sale, use and distribution of certain prescription information, goes too far. They allege it violates free speech rights, endangers public health and impedes research.

"The language of health care is data," Randolph Frankel, IMS' vice president of public affairs, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "It's really the way in which scientists and people in medicine understand the nuances, the probabilities, the impacts of what they do."

Signed June 30 by Gov. John Lynch, the law took effect immediately. It made New Hampshire the first state to try to block pharmaceutical companies' hard-sell pitches by restricting access to data that identifies doctors and other prescribers. Information containing prescribers' zip codes, location and medical specialties is allowed. The law does not prohibit information from being used for care management, clinical trials and education.

Pharmaceutical company salespeople prize doctors' information because it profiles prescribing habits -- they can learn which doctors favor brand names or generics, and who is more willing to prescribe new drugs -- and steer their strategies accordingly.

AARP, the New Hampshire Medical Society, the attorney general's office and the Department of Health and Human Services support the law. Proponents said the ban would protect doctor-patient privacy and prevent salespeople from unduly influencing prescription choices.

"Prescription costs are one of the fastest growing costs in health care, and a lot of that is driven by their marketing efforts, and we should have an ability to protect our consumers," said Lynch spokeswoman Pamela Walsh.

Palmer Jones, the medical society's executive vice president, called the lawsuit an attempt to deter other states from passing similar laws. "It doesn't surprise me that they are challenging this because they are concerned about this becoming a trend across the country," he said. He said medical societies in Maine, Vermont, New York, Nevada and Arizona had asked about the law since its passage.

Pharmaceutical companies, drug store chains and medical data companies oppose the ban. IMS and Verispan predicted the law would have a chilling effect on research and development, even though it focuses on commercial purposes like advertising, marketing and sales.

"The information doesn't exist in a usable fashion ... without us having a commercial interest in collecting it," said Robert Hunkler, an IMS company director. He estimated the cost of collecting and analyzing the data to be in the tens of millions of dollars. Without money coming in from pharmaceutical clients, information would not be available for public health uses, Hunkler said.

IMS and Verispan said prescribers' identities are needed when recruiting for drug trials or getting the word out quickly in case of recalls and alerts.

"The health care community will lose a powerful tool to help monitor the safety of new medications and ensure that patients taking them are not harmed. Without such information, medical researchers will be unable to conduct studies that can improve public health," the complaint said. "By blocking access to prescriber-identifiable data, the New Hampshire law takes health care in the wrong direction while doing nothing to improve the well-being of New Hampshire citizens."

Frankel said doctors who wish to keep their prescription information confidential can do so through a program created by the American Medical Association. Advocates of New Hampshire's law have said that program does not go far enough, because it leaves out prescribers who are not physicians, like nurse practitioners.

IMS and Verispan collect medical information from clinics, pharmacies and hospitals. Frankel estimated prescription information collected from New Hampshire comprises less than 1 percent of IMS' total data. According to a company report, sales to pharmaceutical companies accounted for nearly all of IMS' revenues last 2005 year; nearly half from services for sales forces. Earlier this month, IMS reported second-quarter profits of $62.7 million.

IMS Health Inc.:

Verispan LLC:

American Medical Association prescription information program: