Happy October! If last week is a sign of what’s to come, it’s shaping up to be a busy fall.

Equifax’s CEO resigned, politics got personal (well, at least email accounts did) and grassroots efforts began to materialize in support of Puerto Rico following the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

Oh, and there was also some healthcare news, as we bid adieu to both the latest reform bill and the HHS Secretary. Safe to say, the Reputation & Risk Management team was ready for some R&R this weekend. But now we’re back in action and ready to recount healthcare happenings around town.

Read on for The Week That Was...


Yep, you read that headline correctly. Biopharma giant AbbVie faced backlash last week after an analyst report detailed an optimistic outlook for 2018—a bit too optimistic. According to Leerink, AbbVie executives said in a closed door meeting that they believed they could “revisit” their pricing pledge, made last January at the JP Morgan Conference, due to less attention on drug pricing. According to Leerink, this included double-digit price increases. “Not so fast” was the swift and strong response from watchdog organization Public Citizen. The third-party accused Abbvie of a “cynical about face” in a statement on September 25, prompting immediate media coverage. The next day, AbbVie said its management’s comments had been misinterpreted (though they never explained how). The company issued its own statement to set the record straight: “For 2018, AbbVie will take one single digit price increase and will continue to act responsibly with respect to drug pricing.”


To pledge or not to pledge? That is the question our team gets—a lot. Our research shows that while some pricing pledges or novel pricing models can get a company some good press, they aren’t a panacea to scrutiny around drug prices. In fact, some companies, like AbbVie, have encountered even more scrutiny as a result of their pledge when critics think they are backpedaling or just barely adhering to their pledges. Instead of thinking that pledges are a cure-all for pricing pushback, biopharmas should focus on communicating the unique value that their medicines and programs provide to the community, and price them accordingly.

Oh, and assume anything you say to an investor audience could show up in front of another forum.

► THAT'S SO 2006

For more than 10 years, Twitter users have backspaced and abbreviated their way around the 140 character limit. Much like a New York apartment with limited square footage (which is basically all Manhattan living dwellings), we struggled to cram everything into a preciously limited space—and still left many pithy thoughts on the curb. But, help is on the way for those afflicted with big ideas and tiny space! Twitter announced last week that the company is piloting a new limit of 280 characters to help users more easily express themselves, citing research that shows the current limit is a major cause of frustration among users. The news is good for Westerners: previously, 9% of Tweets in English max out the current limit…whereas our Japanese friends “kondo” their Tweets… less than 0.5% struggle with the 140 limit!


Does more = better? We’re not so sure. If Twitter opts to expand the character limit, then skimming Twitter headlines—a common practice among many of us—will become a lot more laborious. And your Tweet composition must work harder to cut through the clutter. For healthcare communicators, the extra room is not enough real-estate for a drug’s mandatory safety language, so not a ton of help there. Will we see the end of Twitter “shorthand” abbreviations creeping into our feeds and emails? Not anytime soon IMHO. HTH!


The Price is not always right. At least, that is what President Trump signaled earlier this week when commenting on disliking “the optics” of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private jets and military planes for government business when cheaper commercial options were available. Secretary Price, a known budget hawk when serving in the Congress and the Administration, was reported to have spent nearly $1 million in government travel. While Secretary Price offered to pay back the cost for his own travel, which would’ve meant cutting a $52,000 check, it was still a far cry from the costs racked up by staff and military equipment. The gesture did little to slow mounting public ire, leading Secretary Price to resign later in the week.


He who pinches others’ pennies, must live above reproach (Ben Franklin didn’t say that, but if he were alive, we think he would). Whether you’re a federal administrator or a CEO, if your agenda involves deploying significant cost cutting measures (such as cutting advertising for ACA exchange registrations), be prepared to live model an unassailable asceticism yourself—or face the consequences. Lest we forget, recall the demise of former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain following scrutiny of his $1200 bathroom trashcan… he didn’t survive the optics of that saga either.

Until next week, 

The Reputation & Risk Management Practice

About the Author:

We are a team of healthcare communicators, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. Drawing upon professional experiences from Congress, CMS, HHS, hospitals, and health technology—and our collective work in rare disease, oncology, diabetes, gene therapy, pain management and infectious disease—we provide unique solutions to the evolving messaging challenges in today’s healthcare industry. We support our clients with evidence-based approaches to preventing pricing pushback, protecting brands from modern activism, establishing and communicating clear policies surrounding expanded access to medicines, and a proactive approach to value frameworks. Our offerings also include product safety, litigation, regulatory risks, ex-U.S. considerations and policymaker investigations.