Court battle looms over drug act on data mining

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Those requirements were dropped from the bill, which the council approved in a 7-6 vote Dec. 13. The council will consider the bill again on Tuesday.

Ed Shanbacker, executive vice president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, said the group remains opposed to the overall bill and is concerned that it could prompt pharmaceutical companies to take their business elsewhere.

“This bill is a case of the government in search of a problem,” Mr. Shanbacker said. “If the District is a hard place to do business, the drug companies will downplay their presence here.”

The medical society’s concerns were partly mollified when the council amended the bill’s provision on regulating off-label use of drugs. The bill now requires doctors only to explain a drug’s potential side effects to patients, rather than requiring doctors to obtain written informed consent from them.

The bill’s intent to curb pharmaceutical companies from reviewing doctors’ prescriptions without their knowledge and targeting them with aggressive marketing is a national issue.

Two recent federal court decisions on similar laws in New Hampshire and Maine suggest that the legislation, if passed, will end up in court. In April, a federal judge in New Hampshire overturned a state law that restricted access by medical data companies to a doctor’s prescribing information. Last month, a federal judge in Maine prevented a similar law from taking effect, saying it would violate the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment.

Mr. Catania said he is not sure how the bill will be constructed in light of the recent court decisions, but added, “I’m not afraid of litigation. The fact that this mighty industry can tie up government in court does not mean governments stop working.”

Mr. Frankel insisted that health care information should be transparent in order to improve quality and keep costs down. He pointed to the District’s high rate of HIV/AIDS patients as a specific reason to allow the exchange of prescribing information between doctors and drug companies.

“The bill is the wrong prescription for public health, especially for a city dealing with public health crises like the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Now that the city has a clearer picture of the affected population, why would they draw the blinds on how that population is being treated? That is one of the many points we are making to City Council members,” he said.

Jim McElhatton contributed to this article.

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