Reinvigorated from turkey, stuffing and football, we’re back with our irreverent take on the forced and unforced issues facing the healthcare industry. This week, we look at how some of the industry’s normally mild-mannered CEOs sparred over drug prices. We report on the House’s passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. And, we give you a preview of a new, potentially important voice in healthcare policy: the Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee, Representative Tom Price.
Please enjoy The Week That Was.
CEOS GO FROM FRIENDS TO FISTICUFFS ON DRUG PRICES
The elections may be over, but last week we saw a heated debate among pharma industry leaders on drug prices and the industry’s not-so-good reputation. The Forbes Healthcare Summit is not a boxing ring, but the gloves came off anyway in a heated disagreement between leading pharma CEOs. Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer claimed it’s not just the Valeant’s and Turing’s of the world giving the industry a bad name. Schleifer stated pharmaceuticals aren’t liked because they’ve used price increases to cover up gaps in innovation, calling the practice “ridiculous.” But co-panelist, Pfizer CEO Ian Read took serious umbrage. Read remarked that not all companies have the same business model and market capitalization (in a subtle jab at much smaller Regeneron). Read defended Pfizer’s drug price increases which are less than 3%. Meanwhile, Allergan’s Brent Saunders called on the industry to do some self-reflection. Last week, Saunders warned his colleagues to address pricing issues before the government steps in with regulatory measures that may stifle innovation. Building on his “social contract,” Saunders announced Allergan will increase patient assistance eligibility for more than 40 of its medicines as well as limit annual price increases to single digits.
Schleifer and Saunders are astute in encouraging their counterparts to seek palatable pricing approaches. After all, drug prices are a populist issue that actually put the Right and the Left in agreement – making ‘offenders’ ample fodder (and Tweet-worthy content) for shaming by President-elect Trump. While Saunders is an outspoken thought-leader on pricing, his solution may not be a silver bullet. Capping price increases is great in theory, but it’s more achievable for some brands than others. In this market, it is especially challenging for brands operating in highly competitive disease categories.
Oh, and if you were worried about hurt feelings, Schleifer and Read embraced after the panel.
‘Cures” Act Wins the House, but Does Faster = Better?
The House passed the 21st Century Cures Act, arguably the biggest deal in health reform since the ACA, in an overwhelming 392-26 vote. The $6.3 billion bill is a bipartisan effort that has only taken three years to move through Congress. The goal is to improve the FDA’s approval process which has been long-criticized for being slow and burdensome, thus delaying medicines and devices from hitting the market. The Cures Act promises to expedite the approvals process by boosting research funding, thereby getting cures (hence the name) to the market faster. So far, drug makers and device companies, patient advocacy groups, and more than 1,400 lobbyists are pushing for its passage. BUT, not everyone agrees the bill is the “cure” for what ails the healthcare system. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren believe the bill’s provisions weaken the FDA’s authority and potentially compromise patient safety by undermining the standard of evidence the FDA uses.
So, the Act promises to be a big deal… It boosts spending on potentially lifesaving research, pumping billions into the National Institutes of Health. The Cures Act now rests with the Senate, who will vote on it early this week.
PRICE IS RIGHT: HEALTHCARE’S NEWEST VIP
Last Monday, healthcare execs across the nation asked, who is Tom Price? This is because, President-elect Trump nominated Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, is well poised to help a future President Trump achieve his campaign promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Price is an outspoken opponent of “Obamacare.” While in Congress, he introduced the Empowering Patients First Act, which was positioned as a potential replacement for the ACA. The bill emphasized transparency and discretion within the physician-patient relationship and the need to provide a greater number of insurance options for patients (even if plans are less generous). On matters of drug pricing, Rep. Price opposed proposals that would have enabled the government to negotiate drug prices through Medicare Part D and import prescription drugs. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer described Price as “far outside the mainstream of what Americans want when it comes to Medicare, the ACA and Planned Parenthood.” Nevertheless, it is anticipated that Price will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate.
President-elect Trump promised to repeal “Obamacare” on Day 1, and he can do it… sort of. Tax-related elements of the ACA can be repealed through Congressional budget reconciliation…a process that is way too wonky to bore you with! But, it may take several years to determine sustainable systems to replace the ACA. In the meantime, with exchange plan premiums increasing and many plans pushing escalating drug costs down on members, patients will be exposed to the burden of drug out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy. For pharmas who may have breathed a little easier after the election results, be warned you’re not out of the woods.
Until next time,
– The Issues Management Practice @inVentiv Health PR
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