Supreme Court Returns Maine Data Mining Case Back to Appeals Panel

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an appeals court to re-examine its ruling upholding a Maine law that sought to restrict the practice of selling information about physicians' prescribing habits for marketing purposes, the AP/Washington Post reports.

The order comes after the high court last week overturned a similar law in Vermont (AP/Washington Post, 6/28).

Background on Issue

In recent years, lawmakers in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have attempted to limit the sale of physician prescribing information by data mining companies. The companies sell such information to drugmakers that use it to enhance marketing and promotion of their products (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 6/29).

Proponents of such laws argue that they correctly prevent the commercial use of private health treatment decisions and protect physician privacy (iHealthBeat, 6/23). Advocates also say that drugmakers use prescribing data to target physicians most likely to prescribe newer, higher-cost medications, in turn driving up health care costs (iHealthBeat, 4/25).

However, the Supreme Court ruled last week that a Vermont law outlawing data mining was a violation of drug companies' right to free speech.  

According to the ruling, the Vermont law inappropriately limited free-speech rights on the grounds that Vermont lawmakers disagreed with the content of the speech (iHealthBeat, 6/23).

Outlook for Maine, N.H. Laws

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sent the Maine case back "for further consideration" to the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which originally had ruled in favor of the law (Modern Healthcare, 6/29).

The data collection firms that challenged the Vermont law believe the Maine law also will be invalidated by the appeals court.

Brenda Kielty -- spokesperson for the Office of the Maine Attorney General -- said the state will examine the ruling on the Vermont case before making a decision on how to proceed on behalf of the state.

The appeals court has not specified a timeline to hear the case.

The same appeals court also ruled in favor of a New Hampshire law that completely bans the sale of prescription information (Huang, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, 6/28).

It remains unclear what effect the Vermont ruling will have on the New Hampshire statute (Modern Healthcare, 6/29).

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