Drug data mining ban unlikely in Senate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic proposal to ban the collection of doctors’ prescription records for marketing purposes is unlikely to be included as part of the Senate’s overall health reform bill, a Senate staff member said on Monday.

A member of the staff of Senator Herb Kohl, a main sponsor of the amendment, said the change was not likely to come up for a vote or be included as part of a package of changes to be offered later by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“We don’t think it’s likely that the ... amendment will come to a vote or be included in the manager’s amendment,” the staff member told Reuters on the condition of not being named since debate on the bill is not finished.

Dozens of amendments have been offered as part of the Senate’s legislation to overhaul the nation’s $2.5 trillion healthcare system, President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority. There have been few votes on such changes so far but Democratic senators vowed to finish work on the bill as soon as this week.

A ban on so-called “data mining” would have a huge impact on pharmaceutical data companies such as IMS Health and McKesson Corp’s Verispan that collect and sell such data for a variety of uses.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers in particular use information on doctor’s prescribing habits to better inform their drug salespeople when they visit physician offices to market certain products.

IMS has said such data from doctors and other providers is used to help monitor safety issues, reduce costs and for other research purposes.

“Provider level information is a critical resource,” a spokesman for IMS said.

Shares of the company sank on Friday following news of the proposed amendment before later recovering. Shares of the company closed up 1.65 percent at $20.38 on Monday.

Kim Monk, a financial analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said the ban, if included, would have drawn fire from other Democrats and upset a crucial deal with the pharmaceutical industry.

Drugmakers earlier this year made an $80 billion, 10-year deal with the Obama administration and some Senate Democrats to help fund an expansion of health insurance coverage through additional taxes and certain price agreements.

“Reid has bigger policy concerns,” Monk said in a research note on Friday.

The American Medical Association, which represents physicians and also backs the Democrat’s overhaul agenda, also generates revenue from its collection of physician data and likely would have balked at the proposal’s inclusion.

While Kohl’s ban is unlikely now, supporters will continue to push for the measure in other ways, the senator’s staff member said. “We hope it happens at some point.”

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott