Cahill Bill Would Ban Prescription Data Mining

April 25, 2007

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess) has introduced legislation (A.7645) that will prohibit the sale of information listed on prescriptions that identifies persons legally authorized to issue a prescription. "Passing this important legislation will help restore the public's confidence in their health care system while reigning in the driving force behind rising Medicaid costs and health insurance premiums," said Assemblymember Cahill.

Prescription drug prices are the fastest growing component of health care spending in the United States. Prescription drug marketing has exacerbated this problem through a tactic of drug manufacturers called "detailing" in which doctors are encouraged to prescribe the most expensive medicines. Data mining allows drug detailers to know – right down to the pill – if their sales pitches are successful. “Eliminating this invasion of privacy will ensure that drugs are prescribed in the interests of the patient and not the pharmaceutical industry," explained Mr. Cahill.

Unbeknownst to most doctors, drug detailers are issued prescriber reports that outline specifically what drugs physicians are prescribing and how often they prescribe them. Prescriber reports are weekly lists of every prescription written by every physician excluding patients' names. Data mining companies purchase these lists from pharmacies, pharmacy benefits managers and insurance companies and sell the information to pharmaceutical manufacturers.

When pharmacies sell these prescription records, they do not include patient names and, in some cases, the doctors who wrote them. So drug companies turn to another source to complete the profiles: the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA leases its Physicians Masterfile to research firms and pharmaceutical companies. This file contains personal and professional information, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) number, on all doctors practicing in the United States. Drug companies then use the AMA Masterfile to match doctors to prescription records using DEA numbers (every prescription written in the United States must include the prescribing physician's DEA number). Pharmaceutical manufacturers then distribute doctor-by-doctor reports to their detailers, allowing them to target specific prescribers.

"Health care providers are responsible for tailoring their treatments based on particular individual's circumstance and not their demographic," said Assemblymember Cahill. "Allowing salespeople, whose main concern is maximizing market share, to second-guess a practitioner's prescribing patterns is not only disrespectful to the profession it is a detrimental to public health."