Many state legislatures are looking for ways to keep their healthcare costs down. Given our difficult economy, attempts at fiscal prudence do not come as a surprise. What’s heartening is that many states’ bills draw a link between healthcare expenses and doctor–patient confidentiality.
Last Tuesday, lawmakers in the state of Washington considered a bill that bans drug companies from buying patients’ prescription records for marketing purposes. A woman testified before the state House’s Health Care Committee about being contacted by pharmaceutical marketers. After she switched from a branded drug to a cheap generic alternative, marketers attempted to persuade her to use a new version of the branded drug (for which there was no generic equivalent) instead.
The bill would prohibit this kind of contact, ostensibly making it easier for the state to save money on prescription-drug reimbursement. But an equally important effect would be to maintain patients’ privacy by keeping medical information away from pharmaceutical companies.
The bill seems to have momentum. One Washington legislator opposed a similar bill aimed at protecting doctors’ privacy, but supports the new patient-oriented bill.
As I said in regard to a similar New Hampshire law, I believe drug companies are entitled to perform market research to stay competitive and innovative. Yet I think few of us would want our personal information open to public scrutiny. I think the Washington bill and the New Hampshire law strike the right balance between promoting pharmaceutical industry and protecting individual rights.