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The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

August 14, 2017 0 Comments

There’s an old industry myth that August is a slow news month. Not so much this August. As Pod Save America’s Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau put it so aptly on Monday, August is the time for “No news, until there is horrible news.” Cue some Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) speculation on Tuesday.

While cable news erupted over the “fire and fury,” we kept our eyes on healthcare reporters, who are using this reform-free week to write about trends in generic drug prices and the opioid crisis as a state of emergency. With that, please enjoy The Week That Was.


It seems like top tier media decided to have a “generics party” this past week and forgot to invite us. But, no worries, we managed to track the recent wave of articles focusing on how payers are favoring branded medicines over generics, which can hit patients in cost sharing payments and out-of-pocket costs. The New York Times and ProPublica highlighted an emerging trend of payers denying patients access to generic medicines. Why would they do this? Because some payers realize funds in the form of rebate dollars negotiated with manufacturers for brand name drugs. The Times followed this piece with one exploring whether patients are benefitting from falling generic prices, or not.

The Wall Street Journal also published two similar stories last week, one focusing on competition in the generics market driving down profitability and another on how branded epinephrine auto-injectors are actually less expensive for patients than the available generics because of manufacturer agreement with payers.


Recently, the media has broadened the scope of the drug pricing debate to include insurers and PBMs, suggesting that they, too, are culpable for the sticker-shock that patients feel at the pharmacy counter. The conversation has received significant pickup on social media and is ripe to spark patient activism pushing for access to generics.

While media focus has broadened to include payers, drug pricing scrutiny of manufacturers is far from over. Drug makers are implicated for working with insurers and PBMs to prioritize access to branded products. Manufacturers of drugs with generic competitors should expect more questions about how payer rebate agreements impact the price that patients pay at the counter—and be prepared to own their part of the formulary development process.


Patients, caregivers and physicians have a new tool to find expanded access programs this week after the Regan-Udall Foundation launched its Expanded Access Navigator. REMINDER for those unfamiliar with the definition: expanded access typically refers to medicines that are investigational, and which have not yet been approved for patient use by regulators. The tool is designed to be a comprehensive guide for patients to learn more about expanded access, and when it may be appropriate. The navigator also provides physicians with the relevant information they need—including a directory of links to expanded access policies by individual companies—to request access for their patient.


The Navigator is the latest development in a multiple-year trend to make it easier and more transparent for gravely ill patients to understand whether they can access investigational therapies (or not). There is no requirement that companies provide early access to medicines, but as more patient and physician-friendly tools and regulations emerge – developers will be forced to be clearer on whether they offer early access, under what conditions, and how quickly requests are considered. Who can fight with clarity? We believe the clearer the guideposts – the less likelihood of activism on one of healthcare’s most sensitive issues: life or death access to drugs.

This week, a 10-page memo from a software engineer at Google went viral after it was shared on an internal network and Google+. The memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” criticized the company’s diversity initiatives, arguing that women are underrepresented in the tech world because of inherent differences between men and women and not because of gender bias and discrimination. Google received immediate and intense backlash from the public, even after they fired the engineer who drafted the memo.


The memo is salacious enough on its own, but it comes amid intense scrutiny on gender inequality in Silicon Valley. Google is already ensnared in a wage discrimination investigation while its neighbor, Uber, has spent the year battling allegations from female employees about rampant sexism and sexual harassment, an investigation into its culture and the fallout from sexist comments from a board member. Cue the media’s new term for Silicon Valley’s gender woes: “cultural crisis.”


Our TWTW team doesn’t use the term “crisis” lightly. But we have to agree that this fits the bill. Over the past few months, some of Silicon Valley’s biggest leaders have been slammed with accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment, the continuity and depth of which suggest systemic issues within the industry. That nuance is critical; simply weathering some bad press isn’t likely to solve issues that run this deep.

For companies or industries in this kind of crisis, internal communications have to go into overdrive. Do not assume that your employees know or align with the company’s values. We advise actively correcting violations of these values as soon as they arise, even if they seem minor; and set up a variety of channels through which employees can raise concerns, to ensure that everyone has a way to share feedback and be heard. Once a company gets back on their feet, keeping these policies in place can prevent further crises.

Until next week,

 The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @inVentiv Health Communications

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