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Supreme Court Strikes Down Prescription Drug Law

PRIVACY LAW—U.S.

June 23, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Vermont state law today that had prohibited the use of patients' prescription drug records for marketing purposes. In what Reuters described as "a case pitting free-speech rights against medical privacy concerns," the court heard arguments in Sorrell v. IMS Health earlier this year, issuing its opinion this morning. The case was brought forward by pharmaceutical and data mining companies that contested a Vermont law prohibiting the sale of such information as records of which doctors prescribe specific drugs to their patients. "The high court handed a victory to data mining companies IMS Health, Verispan and Source Healthcare Analytics, a unit of Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer, that collect and sell such information and that challenged the law," Reuters reported following the Supreme Court's decision this morning. In a joint media release officials from the companies hailed the decision. "Today's ruling is clear and unmistakable--these types of laws violate the Constitution and do nothing to improve healthcare, reduce costs or protect privacy as proponents had claimed," said Harvey Ashman of IMS Health. Prior to the 6-3 decision by the court, privacy experts weighed in with varying insights on the potential impact of the case, with some warning that for the court to rule as it did today could mean "significant implications" for patient privacy. "From the privacy perspective, the court rejected the efforts of Vermont and others to turn this case into a privacy case, and focused instead on the impact of the law as a commercial speech issue," Kirk Nahra, CIPP, of Wiley Rein told the Daily Dashboard. "There are many current means of regulating patient privacy directly, and it would not have been useful to the overall protection of patient privacy to address these issues in an essentially unrelated context, through the back door." Editor's Note: The IAPP will host a Web Conference on healthcare privacy on July 14, with a focus on such issues as secondary uses of aggregate data for public and private research. Visit our website for more information as it becomes available.
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