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Drug makers are divided

Pharma has been clear with reporters and Hill staff that Democrats’ drug pricing bill will be catastrophic for the industry. But I always like to listen to what the companies are telling investors, as the story isn’t necessarily the same. Keep in mind that different companies have different exposure here, but I’ve compiled some tidbits from a few recent earnings calls:

  • Novartis: “I would say in the near to midterm, not a significant impact,” CEO Vas Narasimhan said.
  • Johnson & Johnson: “That will have a significant detrimental effect on the ability of the industry of the companies to be able to invest in R&D and to develop new medicines,” CEO Joaquin Duato said.
  • Bristol Myers Squibb: “There are elements in the bill, however, which are obviously very detrimental to innovation and particularly price setting by the government at nine and 13 years, obviously have the potential to have a negative impact on innovation overall,” CEO Giovanni Caforio said.
  • (Investors didn’t ask Teva, Alkermes, or GSK about the legislation)

Pharma’s huffing and puffing may not blow the drug pricing bill down

(Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images) Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

In the hallways this week, I caught up with one Democratic senator who’s been a target of the pharmaceutical industry in recent weeks: Chris Coons. Despite some clear lobbying from industry (and a couple eyebrow-raising off-cycle campaign contributions in recent weeks), he’s sounding pretty dug in on supporting Democrats’ drug pricing reform package.


“I have a longstanding relationship with both BIO and PhRMA, which have a significant footprint in Delaware. And I heard their concerns about the bill, and I understand some of their criticisms about the bill and the ways in which it may impact innovation and research. I am a supporter of this reconciliation bill. And I’m gonna keep working for it,” Coons told me.

… but they’re going to keep trying anyway

PhRMA CEO Steve Ubl’s demand to the Senate at a roundtable yesterday wasn’t for lawmakers to tweak the existing bill, but for them to “start over” entirely and take a bipartisan approach. (Remember that when lawmakers did take a bipartisan approach a couple years ago, PhRMA steadfastly opposed it).


The group also floated a couple Biden-specific talking points: that the bill wouldn’t actually decrease inflation, and that it would hurt innovation for cancer drugs.

BIO is also out with a new analysis (that they paid for) that shows reduced profits for biotech companies under the new framework. The analysis found that Medicare negotiation would lower revenues for the top 20 drugs by Medicare spending by $293 billion over the next decade.

One interesting tidbit: the analysis assumes that because the prices Medicare negotiates would be public, it would increase political pressure to lower prices in the commercial market.

Reading the tea leaves for the House’s telehealth bill

Seemingly out of nowhere, the House just passed a bill that’s a huge win for the health tech industry — a two-year extension of pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities. The aim is to allow Congress more time to figure out exactly what they want to make permanent.

House Democrats sorted out one sticky issue by using the Medicare Improvement Fund to pay for the extension (as if we needed another acronym to keep track of these days). But one potential snag remains: employer-sponsored health insurance plans are mad they got left out of a provision that would have allowed them to continue offering first-dollar coverage for telehealth services for patients with high-deductible plans or part-time workers.

The bill got overwhelming support Wednesday afternoon, as only 11 Republicans and House Ways & Means health subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) opposed it. Now it’s headed to the Senate, where its path forward is unclear. It’s possible it could get tacked on to a government funding bill or a package extending health care programs later this year, but there wasn’t some grand scheme of coordination between the two chambers, according to two Senate aides and a House aide.

Interested in more health tech news? A version of this item also ran in STAT Health Tech, our twice-weekly newsletter on that sector. Sign up here.

The odd coalition lobbying against the Senate’s insulin bill

The insulin proposal from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) is still stalled for the moment, and an unusual coalition of stakeholders is hoping it stays that way. Insurers, employers, and conservative think tanks have all decried the proposal, according to letters of opposition obtained by STAT.

A big coalition of employers including the ERISA Industry Committee, the Business Group on Health, and the NFIB has been meeting with Senate offices since June, and also sent a series of letters calling to slow down the proposal — and a week after their first letter, five Republican offices demanded to slow down the bill as well.

The insurer-backed Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing also has concerns with the bill, and it’s opposed by the industry trade group AHIP, Kaiser Permanente, and the Alliance for Community Health Plans.

Senate leadership would need at least nine more GOP lawmakers on board, but conservatives aren’t giving Republicans a green light. The conservative Heritage Foundation wrote an extensive takedown of the bill. A right-leaning group “dedicated to amplifying the voice of the U.S. Hispanic community,” called the LIBRE Initiative, has contacted Senate offices in opposition, and Paragon Health Institute (which has connections to a slew of former Trump staffers) put out a critical analysis as well.

Update: An earlier version of this newsletter misconstrued the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing’s position on the bill.

What we’re reading

  • White House summit sets lofty goals for new Covid vaccines — but largely sidesteps questions of funding, STAT
  • Biden administration weighs declaring monkeypox a health emergency, Washington Post
  • IQVIA’s long-running relationship with Experian to link health and consumer data suffered from privacy lapses, documents show, STAT
  • Dr. Oz’s Turkish nationalist pals living in his secret N.J. condo, Daily Beast
  • AbbVie is scolded by a trade group over sales rep ‘strategically loitering’ in a hospital, STAT