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US judge blocks medical data law

Maine cut access to prescriptions

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Associated Press / December 23, 2007

BANGOR - Relying heavily on a ruling in New Hampshire, a federal judge has overturned a new state law that restricts access by medical data companies to doctors' prescription information.

US District Judge John Woodcock concluded that the law, which was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, would prohibit "the transfer of truthful commercial information" and "violate the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment."

The law had been challenged on constitutional grounds by IMS Health of Norwalk, Conn., Wolters Kluwer Health of Conshohocken, Pa., and Verispan of Yardley, Pa., which collect, analyze, and sell medical data to pharmaceutical companies for use in their marketing programs.

In his 42-page decision, Woodcock said several times that he relied heavily on an April 30 ruling by US District Judge Paul Barbadoro in New Hampshire that overturned a similar law in that state. A similar case is pending in Vermont.

The Maine law, one of several enacted by the Legislature to address high healthcare and prescription drug costs, was modified after the New Hampshire ruling in an attempt to avoid constitutional flaws.

Under an "opt out" provision, drug prescribers were allowed to prevent release of information that identifies them.

But the companies challenging the law said that provision only made things worse by increasing the danger that the law would be used to shield poor prescribing practices.

The primary sponsor of Maine's legislation - Representative Sharon Treat, Democrat of Farmingdale - expressed disappointment at Woodcock's ruling and said she anticipates an appeal.

Appeals by Maine and New Hampshire could be consolidated if judges at the First US Circuit Court of Appeals find that they involved similar issues.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton, who argued the case on Maine's behalf, said Friday that neither he nor Attorney General Steven Rowe had had an opportunity to study Woodcock's decision.

"The attorney general is disappointed by the judge's conclusion," Knowlton said. "We obviously believed the New Hampshire statute is very different than Maine's."

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