Greetings, readers.

It’s never dull in communications. And, “full-speed ahead fall” (as we’ve internally dubbed fall 2019) is as busy as ever. But, this week was also a time to pause, reflect and remember as we observed first-hand from our offices in Manhattan’s Financial District 9/11 memorial tributes. Looking down on the memorial pools (photo below), we were reminded of those who were lost, who served, and how fortunate we are.  


Here’s a look at this week’s healthcare headlines, in case you missed them.



United Health says administering specialty medicines outside of the hospital setting, such as in a physician’s offices or a patient’s home, can improve care and save $4 billion annually. Their new report examined the cost of care for multiple sclerosis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and immune deficiency. The biggest cost reductions were seen in MS with $37K in savings for four months of treatment per patient.


Apple announced three sweeping new healthcare research initiatives. The tech giant is joining the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to look at how data from its menstrual tracker can inform patients’ risk for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, and osteoporosis. They’re working with the WHO and the University of Michigan to better understand how everyday loud noises can affect long-term hearing health. And, finally, they’re partnering with the American Heart Association and Brigham and Women’s Hospital -- analyzing data on apple-watch-wearer’s heart rate and activity levels to make connections to hospitalizations, falls, cardiovascular health and quality of life.


Purdue Pharma is close to a settlement in the landmark opioids case with thousands of municipal governments and nearly two dozen states. The tentative agreement has Purdue filing for bankruptcy and the Sackler family, who owns the company, paying $3 billion over seven years. A new pharma company, not under Sackler control, would be created to sell Purdue’s lead product, OxyContin, and other medicines, with proceeds going to the plaintiffs in the case. The deal seemed all but final on Wednesday. But on Thursday, some doubt arose with at least twenty other states expressing opposition.   


CEOs from 145 of the nation’s biggest companies wrote a letter calling on Congress to enact stricter background checks. A handful of small healthcare companies and one biotech were among the signatories. An article about the letter in the New York Times has some insights into the closed door debates that occur at companies regarding activism. We recommend a full read and a call to our team when you’re having these discussions to help assess if and when it’s appropriate for your company to engage. 


Will PB&J be back on school cafeteria menus? An FDA advisory committee recommended the approval of the first ever treatment for peanut allergies. The treatment reduces the risk of severe reactions for people allergic to peanuts when there is accidental exposure – making it safe for them to eat the equivalent of two peanuts. Some experts are concerned about long-term safety and efficacy of the product since studies only lasted one year and many patients suffered side effects. Parents say it will make a dramatic difference in their kids’ lives, allowing them to sit near their friends at lunch, eat birthday cake baked in a non-nut-free bakeries and live with less fear.

They're Baaack!

By Michelle Leeds

Congress returned from summer recess this week and some policymakers showed up ready! There are a lot of moving pieces on the healthcare front that may start picking up steam, including some glimpses of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s long-awaited proposal to give Medicare negotiating power. While there was much swirl around a draft plan earlier this week, the alleged “real” plan could be released as soon as next week.

What has legs?

There are multiple potential bills and proposals emanating from Senate Committees, the Administration and Presidential candidates, but what is a real signal versus noise? We believe the following will rise to the top:

International reference pricing: Speaker Pelosi's latest draft includes a pricing cap linked to an average price of therapies from six other “wealthy” nations. This may be a carrot for President Trump who is also supportive of an International Pricing Index.

Capping price increases to not exceed rates of inflation: The Pelosi bill includes a claw-back provision that would require drug makers who have raised prices faster than inflation (since 2016) to lower prices or pay the difference to the federal government in a rebate. A Senate Finance bill also includes an inflationary cap on drugs covered under both Medicare Parts B and D.

PBM Rebate Reform: It’s not in Pelosi’s plan, but the Senate Finance Committee may revisit legislation to change the way PBMs receive rebates, after the Trump administration withdrew its proposed rule earlier this year.

No targeted limitations on launch prices: All of the proposals in play target steep price increases, but none specifically prohibit a new drug from launching with a high list price.

Stay tuned to The Week That Was for progress updates.

Taking home tests, compromising care

By Olivia Rothseid

We’ve seen the emergence of at-home genetic tests and HIV tests. Now, two companies have taken the concept to a new level: rape kits. The at-home kits are designed to allow survivors of sexual assault to gather evidence in privacy, rather than going to the hospital. The makers of the "PRESERVEkit" and “MeToo Kit” (yes; that is the actual name) say they’re responding to barriers that survivors of sexual assault and abuse face when seeking treatment. These include feelings of not being believed by medical practitioners, facing privacy concerns, apprehensions related to documentation or insurance, and discrimination for sexual or gender identity. The kit manufacturers claim to give people autonomy over their own care – arming them with information they can then bring to a physician if they choose. The MeToo Kit founder further extrapolates that “the predatory nature of parties on college campuses would change if everyone knew that everyone had a kit.” We’re not so sure about that.

These kits raise big issues and shortcomings such as:

  • Compromising complete care. The kits do not provide survivors with the medical resources that a hospital environment does, such as referrals to counseling and continued care services, antibiotics and anti-retrovirals that prevent sexually transmitted infections, and a professional physical examination.
  • Misleading claims. There is also the question of whether these kits are admissible in court, should charges be pressed. Could defendants claim user-error or tampering if a kit is not completed by an impartial medical practitioner? Concerns surrounding the kits led to several attorneys general issuing cease-and-desist letter to the Preserve Group and the MeToo Kit. New York’s Attorney General Letitia James has remarked “companies selling kits… purport to collect evidence without knowing whether the evidence will be admissible in court."

Although marketed as a solution, these kits bring more harm than good to patients who may already be in an intense period of crisis. Prioritizing convenience over complete care, could further harm survivors by circumventing appropriate medical and mental health care, advising safety practices and plans, and offering admissible legal aid. The problems the manufacturers are hoping to circumvent will not be solved by keeping kits at home, but rather by making systemic changes within the hospital setting.

While the Preserve Group has had 40 sales on Amazon within one month, we will need to wait and see if the MeToo Kit ever meaningfully makes it into homes. Before the other kit comes to market, we hope they’ll at least change the name, which one Attorney General called “shameless” for taking “financial advantage of the ‘Me Too’ movement.” 

Who wrote this? The managing editor of TWTW is Randi Kahn, who just learned that there exists date-rape-drug detecting nail polish and is wondering what other problems a good manicure could solve. Mani, pedi, preventive care? 

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.

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Image credits: infusion by ENDRU DESIGN from the Noun Project, Apple by zidney from the Noun Project, Justice Scale by b farias from the Noun Project, Protest by Darin S from the Noun Project, Peanut by Tomas Knopp from the Noun Project, Congress by MRFA from the Noun Project, Home by Saifurrijal from the Noun Project

And now please enjoy this disclaimer that prevents our team from getting in a heap of trouble: This report may contain links to external or third party websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and Syneos Health accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. Syneos Health makes no warranties or representations, express or implied about such linked websites, the third parties they are owned and operated by, the information contained on them or the suitability or quality of any of their products or services. Syneos Health does not authorize the infringement of any intellectual property rights contained in material offered through these linked sites. Please refer to the use agreement and/or copyright statements of any external site you visit, or the terms and conditions of any externally provided web site for instructions, restrictions, and guidelines. If you have a question, please contact the webmaster of the external site.

About the Author:

Randi Kahn is a Senior Media & Content Director in our Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps clients build and protect their brand reputations through executive thought leadership, public affairs, and issues preparation and response. She has worked for clients throughout the healthcare ecosystem including payers, providers, patient groups and pharma.