Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (First Circuit) upheld Maine’s 2007 data-mining law, which bans the commercial use or sale of data showing what health practitioners prescribe to their patients. Over on Health Policy Hub, Ian Reynolds blogged about what the decision means in the context of earlier court cases:

The Maine law is nearly identical to laws in New Hampshire and Vermont that have also survived challenges by industry…

For those keeping score, we now have three variations of data mining laws in three states. We’ve got the total ban, the “opt-in” and the “opt-out.” Each of the states has also been given the go-ahead to implement its law, though we’re still waiting for the outcome of the final appeal on the Vermont statute.

The First Circuit ruling is another win for prescription privacy and public health advocates. But the ruling may be most significant because there isn’t really anything remarkable about it. It feels like we’ve been here before, heard many of the same arguments and had similar results. Even though these three laws differ slightly in how they go about it, they all have the same intent: to limit drug reps’ access to prescriber-identifiable data. The legal and public health arguments for limiting data mining are clear, and that’s been shown time and again. Last week’s ruling in Maine cited many of the same findings from Vermont and New Hampshire decisions: the statute is constitutional, does not infringe on free speech guarantees, stands to protect public health and will save public dollars.

Maybe this was strike three. Or maybe the final appeals court ruling on Vermont’s law will be strike three. Sooner or later it will come and advocates can focus on developing programs and systems that use prescription information to improve patient care, rather than simply defending against its use for marketing practices that drive up costs. With the passage of the new health law, we need smart strategies like these to make the health care system more sustainable while improving quality.

Read the full post here.

-Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger