Resolution of Disapproval in Supreme Court Decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health Case

Lawmaker, author of health privacy protections in economic recovery act, declares privacy rights of doctors, patients should trump commercial interests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday July 8, 2011, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus and senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced H.Res. 343, a resolution expressing disapproval of the recent Supreme Court decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health. In its decision, the Court struck down a Vermont state law that banned the sale of doctors’ drug prescriptions records if the records are used for commercial purposes without the doctors’ permission.

Rep. Markey’s resolution states that the Court erred in applying free speech protections to a Vermont law that lawfully regulated a purely commercial interest. Before the Vermont law was enacted, data-mining companies would purchase information about doctors’ prescription drug information from pharmacies and then resell the data to pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies could use the information – without the doctors’ consent – for the commercial purpose of targeting their sales messages and marketing more expensive, brand-name drugs to physicians.

“In this case, the Supreme Court tipped the scales of justice in favor of big drug companies at the expense of patients and their doctors,” said Rep. Markey. “The privacy of the doctor-patient relationship should outweigh the ability of pharmaceutical companies to mine data simply so they can market expensive drugs to providers and reap huge profits. States should be able to regulate pharmaceutical companies in a way that protects the privacy of their residents and prevents pharmaceutical companies from having undue influence on doctors’ prescribing habits.”

Dissenting in the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Vermont state law in question “adversely affects expression in one, and only one way. It deprives pharmaceutical and data-mining companies of data…that could help pharmaceutical companies create better sales messages.” The dissent, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, stated that the Vermont statute is a “lawful governmental effort to regulate a commercial enterprise…The far stricter, specially ‘heightened’ First Amendment standards that the majority would apply to this instance of commercial regulation are out of place here.”

Dr. Deborah Peel, a national health privacy expert and founder of the non-profit Patient Privacy Rights, praised the Markey resolution. “With a Supreme Court that stands up for the interests of pharmaceutical companies, it’s reassuring to know that Congressman Markey is looking out for patients and doctors who value the privacy of their prescription drug information.”

Text of the resolution can be found HERE.

Re: Data Privacy, Put to the Test

Great story in the NY Times about the fact that patients’ rights to health privacy are being violated by the sale of prescription records. It quotes three of the big stars who will be speaking June 13th at the First Summit on the Future of Health Privacy: Chris Calabrese, Latanya Sweeney, and Lee Tien. See www.healthprivacysummit.org.

See the full story: Data Privacy, Put to the Test

But privacy is ALREADY gone!

Refer to Wall Street Journal article: Is Government Health Care Constitutional?

The authors fear that Americans’ health privacy rights will be eliminated by health reform if a proposed “public plan” evolves into “single payer”.

They are too late, there is no privacy (the right to control personal information) in the US electronic health system —EXCEPT for the strong new rights Congress added to the stimulus bill: the ban on sales of PHI, the right to segment sensitive records, and the right to limit disclosure of PHI to health plans for payment or HCO if treatment is paid for out-of-pocket.

Our strong existing ethical and legal privacy rights (a powerful national consensus arrived at over 200+ years) are being totally ignored by federal and state government and industry.

The authors clearly don’t know that we have no health privacy today or that privacy advocates in the bipartisan Coalition for Patient Privacy (representing 10 million Americans) work to restore those rights.

In 2002, amendments to the HIPAA regulations granted new rights to corporations and government to use ALL health data without informed consent for purposes no one would ever agree to AND eliminated Americans’ rights to give consent before our data is used. See:HIPAA_Intent_Vs_Reality . In 1999, the HIPAA statute granted law enforcement unfettered access to all electronic health records without informed consent or any judicial process.

Both Democratic and Republican Administrations and Congress have contributed to eliminating patients’ rights to control personal health information. The ONC-Coordinated Federal Health IT Strategic Plan: 2008-2012, requires all EHRs to be “wired” for data mining and requires every citizen to have an EHR by 2014.
See:HITStrategicPlan08.pdf

The Federal Strategic Plan grants “back door” access to the nation’s electronic records to government agencies; to the for-profit research industry for P4P, QI, population health, genetic research (personalized medicine), etc; and to the insurance industry to detect fraud (this is one of the most offensive and discriminatory measures planned–the last people patients want to have MORE access to sensitive health records are insurers and employers).

Key Quotes:

• The Supreme Court created the right to privacy in the 1960s

• the justices posited a constitutionally mandated zone of personal privacy that must remain free of government regulation, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

• Taking key decisions away from patient and physician, or otherwise limiting their available choices, will render any new system constitutionally vulnerable.

• if over time, as many critics fear, a “public option” health insurance plan turns into what amounts to a single-payer system, the constitutional issues regarding treatment and reimbursement decisions will be manifold. The same will be true of a quasi-private system where the government claims a large role in defining acceptable health-insurance coverage and treatments. There will be all sorts of “undue burdens” on the rights of patients to receive the care they may want. Then the litigation will begin.

• In crafting the law, however, its White House and congressional sponsors must keep privacy — that near absolute right to personal autonomy they have so often praised and promoted — squarely before them. The only thing that is certain today is that the courts, and not Congress, will have the last word.

The authors tilt at the wrong windmill –not realizing they are too late: the privacy for health data in electronic systems is already GONE. We hope they will join us and work to RESTORE Americans’ longstanding ethical and legal rights to health privacy–regardless of a “public plan” or whether it turns into “single payer”.