Judge Rules Texas Lawmakers Can See Drug Pricing Data Pfizer Wanted Kept Under Wraps

Our daily roundup of Texas headlines.

By Alexandra HartOctober 3, 2017 5:02 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has lost its lawsuit against Texas over whether lawmakers are entitled to certain information about drug pricing.

Last year, the drugmaker sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for providing lawmakers details about the state’s Medicaid contracts. Pfizer said that violated confidentiality agreements and revealed valuable trade secrets. But Judge Lee Yeakel of the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of the state.

What’s behind all this?

The Health and Human Services commission oversees details about the state’s Medicaid contracts with Big Pharma. Those contracts lay out how much the state is spending on drug costs for the program. Last year, two lawmakers, State Senators Charles Schwertner and Jane Nelson, asked the commission for data about federal and state rebate amounts for drugs on the Medicaid Preferred Drug List. They wanted to use that info to draft legislative and budget proposals.

At first the commission said no. Then, the Texas Attorney General’s office stepped in and said the commission needed to hand over the data. And that’s when Pfizer got involved, filing suit last November.

But on Friday, Judge Yeakel ruled that it is OK for legislators to have access to that information in order to “exercise meaningful oversight” over the Medicaid program. The decision comes amid national concern about rising prescription drug costs.


Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P Bush announced a plan yesterday to restore historic cannons used in the Battle of the Alamo.

Speaking to a crowd in front of the Alamo, Bush said the state would partner with the Texas A&M University Conservation Research Lab to preserve the seven cannons. The lab’s director says each cannon will take about three to four months to restore. The state’s nonprofit Remember the Alamo foundation launched a GoFundMe campaign Monday to raise the $50,000 needed to complete the project.

Tuesday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will begin hearing arguments about whether or not Harris County’s cash bail system is unconstitutional. The case looks at whether defendants can be held in jail until their court date – just because they can’t afford to make bail.

Houston Public Media’s Andrew Schneider has more:

The plaintiffs each found themselves in a similar situation – charged with a misdemeanor and unable to come up with the few thousand dollars required for bail. So they waited behind bars until their day in court. Meanwhile, others who could afford bail were allowed to walk free before trial.

Sandra Guerra Thompson teaches criminal law at the University of Houston Law Center.

“The concern is, then, that it violates their constitutional rights,” she says.

She refers specifically, the rights to equal protection and due process. Both current District Attorney Kim Ogg and current Sheriff Ed Gonzalez campaigned to change the practice when they ran in 2016.

“It’s an odd case, because you have the sheriff who’s being sued saying, ‘The people who are suing me are right,’” Thompson says.

According to statistics cited in the lower court ruling, forty percent of those arrested on misdemeanor charges in Harris County were jailed until their cases were resolved.