Little known secret about the TWTW team: we work a lot. You’re shocked, we know. 

But in all seriousness, we all know what it’s like to operate in this 24/7 world, in which everyone is “always on” and something could hit at any time. And sometimes, that’s led us to forget Valentine’s Day until the last minute. (Hey, if there’s no calendar invite…)

But this year, we’re on top of it! We’re even giving you the heads up. This is an official reminder to those that celebrate: VDay is this Thursday. 💕

And for those that hate VDay and are only in it for the candy, we’ve got something for you too: a new TWTW feature series, #CandyDrama. What constitutes #CandyDrama? We’re so glad you asked…

Kiss and make up: After a slew of complaints on social media from bakers, Hershey’s issued a public response to consumers and worked to fix the imperfect, inconsistent peaks on their candies. Apparently, “Hershey ‘really appreciated’ how strongly bakers felt about the Kisses and their iconic shape.”

Broken (sweet)hearts: Due to a manufacturing lapse following the acquisition of Necco, the company that makes Sweethearts, there will be no new Sweethearts on the market this VDay. They’ll be back next year, but until then, you’ll pay a steep premium (Amazon is selling boxes starting at $9). There have been reports of consumers “panic buying” the candy.

Good stuff, right? We’re just getting started.


4 Monday

 Bloomberg Law reported on an emerging trend of medical schools including health policy as part of the curriculum. The move is in response to growing pressure from students, who want “a greater understanding of how health-care policy will affect their patients.”

5 Tuesday

 During the State of the Union, President Trump remarked that “As a result of my Administration's efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.” Does that mean the RRM team can all go home now? Not quite…per the AP's fact check that found that Trump was “selectively citing statistics to exaggerate what seems to be a slowdown in prices.” 

6 Wednesday

 In non-healthcare news, VA Governor Ralph Northam’s scandal inspired an interesting piece from the Wall Street Journal, asserting that politicians aren’t the only ones that need to make sure their past is, shall we say, buttoned up. “Executives and business owners would be wise to know what potentially offensive photos, audio recordings and writing attributed to them in their younger days exist and could come to light.” Let’s start with anyone that owns a yearbook from the 80s…

7 Thursday

 Insider reported that in an “alarming trend” people are using “a veterinary medicine designed to treat parasitic infections in horses” to treat rosacea. Why? “Horse paste” has the same active ingredient as the FDA-approved therapy Soolantra - but while Soolantra can cost several hundred dollars, you can get horse paste for about $4 on Amazon. Dermatologists have noted their concerns with this approach and asked patients to stop horsing around.  

8 Friday

 Friday AM brought this very real story of a 74-year-old man in New York, who told a federal judge that black licorice “destroyed my life.” It turns out black licorice is truly the OG* of #CandyDrama – this isn’t the first time it’s faced controversy. Last fall, the FDA issued a warning about black licorice, and then later had to clarify that the warning was not, in fact, that “black licorice taste like sh*t.” Yes, the FDA actually used this emoji  on Facebook. *OG = original gangster


Hey hospitals, we see you 

There’s no doubt that drug makers and PBMs are at the heart of the pricing debate – last week’s proposal from the Administration confirms as much. But before belting another rendition of Why Me?, it’s worth noting the entire healthcare industry is grappling with the issue of costs, and there’s another major group facing constant scrutiny: hospitals.

So what are some of the biggest pricing problems hospitals have, and how do they relate to pharma and biotech?

Price fluctuation: A recent Kaiser Health News story found a huge variation in “basic charges” across different hospitals. Some examples:

  • A liter of saline solution for intravenous use was $56 (list price) at one hospital and then $472.50 at another hospital. That’s a 7x difference. 
  • A brain MRI with contrast ranged from $1,720 to $8,800 across different hospitals.

Check out the story for some awesome charts. (Yes, we think charts are awesome. Don’t @ us)

Unwelcome surprises: Ever have a procedure at a hospital within network for your insurance, only to be treated by a physician outside of your plan? Or, have a lab test you aren’t sure you need? Media has been busy writing about these “surprise medical bills” and “balance billing” (the difference between what the provider charges and what the patient’s insurance covers). Some outlets, like Vox and Kaiser Health News, have even based their reporting on medical bills submitted by patients. President Trump has noticed too, commenting: “The pricing is hurting patients, and we’ve stopped a lot of it, but we’re going to stop all of it.” And we can expect some potentially bipartisan action on the Hill on the topic in the coming months.

Medicare Part B: Remember the Trump administration’s efforts to lower spending on certain Medicare drugs by limiting payment to what other countries pay? Well, just like pharma, hospitals really aren’t on board with that plan. The American Hospital Association very publicly stated their concern in this 14-page letter addressed to Seema Verma, in which they cited issues like the impact on 340B hospitals and a potential regulatory and operational burden. Sidenote: we love AHA’s very un-casual muscle flex in the upfront of the letter.

Transparency: On Jan. 1, all hospitals were required to start posting “price lists” online (that’s where Kaiser got the above data). Here’s Mayo Clinic’s price list as an example. But, like efforts for drug makers to post list prices online or include them in commercials, critics, including Vox’s Sarah Kliff, worry that this may confuse patients rather than empower them. Few patients will actually pay the full charge included in the “price lists.” Further, patients must know every service they will need before visiting the hospital...which seems unlikely. Unless you’re a med-school dropout, you probably need to go to the hospital before you can know what you need. HHS Sec. Alex Azar says it’s up to hospitals to provide more clarity.

So while drug makers and hospitals certainly don’t see eye to eye very often (remember PhRMA’s hospital campaign?), it’s worth remembering that every part of the industry is feeling pressure on pricing.

And if nothing else, perhaps we can all unite behind this hot take: maybe now isn’t the time for the Zuckerberg team to be operating in the hospital space…blank


Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Dana Davis, who has candy on her person at all times and Randi Kahn, whose family used to own a candy store.

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: Congress by MRFA from the Noun Project, licorice by Hermine Blanquart from the Noun Project

About the Author:

Dana Davis is a strategist in the Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps biopharma clients communicate the value they bring to their stakeholders. Her expertise lies in issues of corporate activism; advising companies that must respond to activist tactics from patients, employees, or investors, as well as companies looking to take a proactive stance on social issues.

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.