Data firms get a little help from their friends in Supreme Court case

Vermont stiffens gift ban, disclosure policy
Vermont stiffens gift ban, disclosure policy
The firms fighting for their right to sell physician data got an assist as a host of big names, including a pair of former Health and Human Services secretaries, filed 16 supportive amicus briefs with the Supreme Court.

Among those urging the court to overrule state laws, like Vermont's, that ban the use of physician prescription data for pharma marketing were former HHS heads Dr. Louis Sullivan, MD and Gov. Tommy Thompson, who wrote that the Vermont statute “makes it harder, not easier, for healthcare professionals to identify and reduce the substantial variations that exist in the delivery of healthcare services and the considerable health disparities that affect the lives of many Americans.

The Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in the case, Sorrell v. IMS Health, as did a host of publishers, including AP, Bloomberg, McGraw-Hill, Hearst Corp. and even ProPublica, calling computerized analysis of data “a centerpiece of freedom of speech in our 21st-Century information-centric democracy.” Other signatories included physicians, advertising and medical trade groups and think tanks.

On the other side are the Justice Department, 34 states and the District of Columbia, along with the American Academy of Family Practitioners, American Academy of Pediatrics and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up the case following a victory for the data firms in November, when a federal appeals court in Vermont reversed a district court ruling limiting the commercial exchange of prescriber data. In addition to IMS, SDI, Wolters Kluwer's Source Healthcare Analytics unit and PhRMA are fighting the Vermont law. Similar laws are pending in a number of states, and John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, said that if upheld, Vermont's policy would swiftly be adopted coast-to-coast.

"There are probably lots of workarounds for the IMS data, though many would more costly and less precise," said Kamp. "But if we lose this, these statutes will be adopted quickly in the big states, and then the opponents of branded products will go after other medical data and data analytics. I'm not a big proponent of domino theories, but if the Court upholds Vermont, dominoes will fall all over America."

The court will hear arguments in the case starting April 26, and a decision is likely to come in September.