A key state Senate panel voted Monday for a bill that would make Nevada the second state in the country to ban data-mining companies from buying doctors' prescribing information.
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted 4-1 for SB231. Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, cast the opposing vote, saying the bill would expand patient privacy rights to doctors and "I'm not ready to go there yet."
A handful of data mining companies had been purchasing information about what doctors prescribe which medications for over a decade, selling the information to pharmaceutical companies.
Connecticut-based IMS Health, considered the industry leader, reported $444 million in profits during 2006. According to the company's SEC filings, almost half its revenue comes from helping drug companies optimize their sales force.
IMS Health and competitor Wolters Kluwer Health argued that current law was meant to protect the privacy of patients, not doctors. They argued that doctor-identified data has beneficial uses, allowing for research and doctor education.
But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson, said that the bill made allowances for such noncommercial uses of the data. Heck said he wants to ban targeted marketing of drugs to physicians, which he called an unethical interference with a doctor's practice.
Barry Gold, a lobbyist for AARP Nevada, supported the bill, saying that stopping the practice also will help combat rising drug prices. Profiling doctors just helps drug companies market the newest, most expensive drugs, said Gold.
The Nevada State Medical Association also supported the bill. The American Medical Association, which has financial contracts with the data-mining firms, opposed it, and said it offered doctors an "opt-out" program.
Heck said that program was insufficient, and allowed the drug and data-mining companies to "self-police." He added that many doctors still aren't aware their prescription information isn't private.
Last year, Heck inquired about the practice, and state lawyers issued an opinion saying the data-mining companies were violating existing state law. Heck said SB231 would clarify that the practice is illegal in Nevada.