Season’s Greetings (read on, you’ll get it)!
While the West Coast had Coachella this weekend, the East Coast had… weather from all four seasons in seven days! Whether you spent the weekend jamming at a music festival in the sunny, warm desert, or doing something more mundane like taxes switching between heat and air conditioning in your apartment, you may have missed this week’s healthcare and crisis comms headlines.
So, we’ve got you covered:
- Privacy sweep on the Hill. The verdict is in: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg performed well during two days of hearings on Capitol Hill. The CEO discussed Facebook’s privacy rules and how the company needs to better inform users about the data they’re sharing. The rest of Silicon Valley took notice of the criticism and realized potential regulation is on the table when privacy breaches occur. Meanwhile, Google announced a new confidential mode on its Gmail platform.
- What’s old is not new again. Last week, Heinz polled Twitter users about its “new” ketchup-mayonnaise mashup and asked Americans “Are you ready for #mayochup?” But the condiment kingpin wasn’t prepared for the less-than-savory response. Cultures ranging from Puerto Ricans, South Americans, to Utahans (yes, Utah claims the delectable mayo+ketchup offering) accused Heinz of cultural appropriation, because their communities had used the combination for generations.
- The new milk (hold the cow). Oat is the new milk. Yes, for those of you addicted to your lattes, you’ve got more options. Hipster baristas in major cities across the country have spoken! And they demand more “oat milk,” a non-dairy, plant-based option that is particularly effective for making milk-based designs atop your caffeinated beverage. BUT, the National Milk Producers Federation says hold the phone. In their opinion, the term “milk” can only apply to dairy.
- Dolly inventor discloses diagnosis. Dr. Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly, the cloned sheep, announced he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Dolly’s creation 20 years ago was intended to spark a new wave of research – with a particular focus on Parkinson’s Disease. On World Parkinson’s Day, Wilmut announced his diagnosis and intent to take part in clinical trials to further study treatments.
- The TWTW team also paid close attention to events on Capitol Hill this week. Read on for our thoughts about how drug pricing and tax cuts are linked in at least one senator’s mind. And, on the House side, the debate was on national opioid policy.
►SENATOR NAMES NAMES, RIPS PHARMA STOCK BUYBACKS
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) released a report alleging that some of the top U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies have misused savings resulting from the 2017 tax overhaul. Instead of directing savings to increased employment, R&D and capital spending, or reducing drug costs for Americans, the reportfinds that most of the additional net revenue from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been used to finance $45 billion in stock buybacks or to bolster employee bonuses. According to Senator Booker, no company planned to turn tax savings into efforts to lower prescription drug prices. Booker’s report is based primarily on transcripts of Q4 earnings calls. The trade association PhRMA begged to differ. The group argued that according to Booker’s own report, the companies he criticized committed $23 billion to R&D and capital projects, which will create nearly 400,000 jobs in the Senator’s home state of New Jersey.
With mid-terms on the horizon and responses to “taking action on drug pricing” polling well, the industry should expect more of this type of quick research and rhetoric throughout 2018. As for Senator Booker, his actions have been increasingly critical of pharmaceutical companies since taking heat for voting against a re-importation bill in 2017. Last April, he announced he would not acceptcampaign support from the industry.
►HOUSE HOLDS HEARING ON OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Last week, the House of Energy and Commerce Subcommittee met for their third and final hearing on how to combat the opioid epidemic. The focus: how to improve the ability of Medicare and Medicaid to provide care for addicted opioid use disorder patients while still meeting the needs of people living with chronic pain. The need is important given that opioid addiction is estimated to be 10 times as prevalent in Medicaid beneficiaries, than in individuals with commercial coverage. Over the two-day hearing, the subcommittee reviewed 34 bills and focused on a few main themes:
- Continuity and coordination of care: There is a focus on providing more continuity of coverage for individuals upon release from prison at a time when they are 120% more likely to overdose than the general population.
- Lock-in program: Through the government’s proposed “Lock-In” program, there is a goal to better monitor and control appropriate-use opioids and medically-assisted therapies. Medicare patients will be designated to a prescriber, pharmacist, or both for all treatments and prescriptions. With the hub-spoke program, rural patients will be seen at a centralized healthcare hub, prior to being directed to “spokes” – health care centers that are more convenient to their rural home.
- CMS’s Overutilization Monitoring System (OMS) has put in place notifications when there are a high number of beneficiaries going to the pharmacy for opioids regularly. The notification program establishes a 7-day initial fill limit for patients with acute pain, so that the patients, pharmacists, and providers can engage in a conversation on pain management before the patient is able to become addicted to their medication. Since initiating the program, CMS has seen a 76% reduction in opioid prescribing and pick-up through Medicare Part D. If utilized correctly, the program will strike the balance between allowing access to these drugs for people whose pain is acute and chronic, and those who do not need these drugs on a longer term basis.
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) aims to ensure providers have a clear sense of where members are receiving other opioid prescriptions. There are alerts in place, so that managed care organizations can prevent over-prescribing. Because patients can get prescriptions across state lines, states must coordinate PDMP programs. Currently, you cannot pull data into individual systems.
Opioid prescriptions are down 15% since 2014, so prescribing patterns are headed in the right direction. Yet, many payers are still delaying coverage of pain medicines that carry more expensive abuse-deterrent properties, leaving an excess amount of abuse-able opioids in the market. These drugs, coupled with increasing rates of deadly heroin and fentanyl use among addicts, provide a deadly combination. Ending an epidemic is an “all in” effort. There are no simple solutions. CMS efforts combined with reduced dosing, treatment for those with chronic pain, access to medically-assisted therapies for addicts and the elimination of content that promotes misuse and abuse are all needed.