Federal judge rejects Maine Rx data law

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A Maine law that would have limited access by medical data companies to doctors' prescription information was reversed on constitutional grounds.

The law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, would prohibit “the transfer of truthful commercial information” and “violate the free speech guarantee,” US District Judge John Woodcock ruled Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Researchers IMS Health, Wolters Kluwer Health and Verispan had challenged the law.

“We believe that restrictions on the dissemination of information of crucial public interest are neither good healthcare policy nor consistent with our society's core beliefs in the free flow of information,” said Robert Steinfeld, IMS senior vice president and general counsel, in a statement about the ruling issued today.

Judge Woodcock noted that he relied heavily on an April 30 decision by US District Judge Paul Barbadoro in New Hampshire that overturned a similar law in that state. In Vermont a similar case also is pending.

Maine's Prescription Restraint Law was one of several state measures designed to slow prescription drug costs for individual patients and state Medicaid plans.

Following the New Hampshire ruling, Maine legislators attempted to alter their law to avoid the First Amendment snag, using an “opt out” provision to allow prescribers to prevent release of information. But challengers said the provision only increased the chances that the law would be used to shield poor prescribing practices.

State Rep. Sharon Treat told the AP she anticipates an appeal. If judges at the First US Circuit Court of Appeals find that they involved similar issues, appeals for Maine and New Hampshire could be consolidated.

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