Social media was once scary territory for the heavily regulated pharma industry, but today it’s becoming old hat, according to Tamara Littleton, CEO and founder of London social media agency Emoderation. Big Pharma players have realized they can no longer ignore the space where many of their target audiences--patients, families, physicians and even payers--congregate.
“Social offers pharma brands a way to connect with their market over the longer-term. It is also where their customers are and whether they engage or not, or are able to on certain posts, they will be talked about," Littleton told FiercePharmaMarketing by email.
In a column for Econsultancy earlier this month, Littleton pointed out some good examples of pharma companies using social media. She highlighted GlaxoSmithKline’s Twitter account, which focuses on its company values of leadership and research, and Johnson & Johnson’s overall social media presence, which emphasizes its values around the importance of family.
Of course, just because drugmakers are more readily joining social media doesn’t mean using it has become any easier--or that it now requires less vigilance. The job of professional pharma social media managers is demanding, and it requires a particular skill.
So how, then, can pharma social media managers field a successful strategy? Read on for Littleton's thoughts.
Be engaging. Health products may not be as central to a person’s identity as his or her car or clothing brands, but pharma’s social media voice can still make a difference. “People may not build their identities around their chosen brand of painkiller in the same way that they do with their choice of gaming console or favorite clothes brand, but a friendly, engaging social media presence can go a long way to keeping the brand at the forefront of people’s minds,” she wrote in the column.
Share content around the values of the company. Like the J&J and GSK examples Littleton cites, pharma companies can connect with patients and families by highlighting their values and the efforts their people and corporate initiatives make to fulfill those values.
Monitor content to stay in line with advertising guidelines and FDA regulations. That means keeping current on regulations and ensuring pages are constantly monitored so that “any user-generated content posted that contravenes the regulations is removed as soon as possible,” she told FiercePharmaMarketing.
Create an adverse event reporting and escalation process. Pharma brands active on social media have a dedicated resource to manage their social media presence--whether it’s an internal person or team, or a specialist agency--but they should also have a process for reporting any problems. Littleton noted the need to report an adverse event to the FDA within 24 hours. If pharma companies don’t have a process in place to flag incidents, that one-day clock can pass quickly.
With the ability to reach billions of followers around the world each day, businesses are using social media to promote specials, attract followers, and expand the reach of their product. Right now, the up and coming new social media platform is Snapchat.
Created in 2011, Snapchat is a mobile messaging app where users send photos and videos to each other that self-destruct after a few seconds. Within the last year, Snapchat’s daily video views grew from 2 billion to 10 billion, according to Bloomberg Technology News.
Despite the growing popularity of this social media platform, it seems the healthcare industry is slow to utilize Snapchat as a marketing strategy. Of course HIPAA laws must be taken into consideration when using social media in regards to healthcare, but there are multiple, creative ways for the healthcare industry to use Snapchat.
For instance, healthcare professionals can create Snapchat stories, a feature which allows the user to string together multiple snaps and create a video narrative that is available for users to view for 24 hours. This feature could be used to highlight a “Day in the Life of [insert medical professional here].”
The reason Snapchat works so well in marketing is its simplicity and ability to create a sense of intimacy in a short amount of time. In a world where understanding healthcare is becoming more complicated and the digital world is making us feel more connected yet disconnected at the same time, Snapchat offers the ability to send quick, simple messages that still feel heartfelt.
Given that healthcare is now looked at by the general population as a consumer market, Snapchat may be underestimated as one of the best tools available for healthcare providers to create trust and comfort in patients and convey health information to the public.
[Instagram may be better for pharma. For more on that read: “Now May Be the Time for Pharma to Get Serious About Instagram”; http://sco.lt/79K5JZ]
according to Thoryn Stephens, the chief digital officer at American Apparel, measurements like these can constitute what he calls “fake or false metrics.” They may be distracting you from underlying problems, or untapped potential. Instead, businesses need to focus on “the true metrics that drive value,” he said at the recent Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative Conference.
The global patient engagement solutions market was valued at USD 7.4 billion in 2015. The growing frequency of medical tourism coupled with the rising use of cloud-based networking models and the increasing number of investments in the healthcare IT, in the developing nations, are anticipated to propel the industry growth over the forecast period.
Favorable government legislations and awareness initiatives are anticipated to be crucial drivers for the market growth. For instance, the Readmission Reduction Program initiated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) inspire the providers to be actively involved in patient engagement solutions with the objective of containing the readmission rates while providing better inpatient services.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) further promotes the growth of this sector by introducing programs, such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), at hospitals to conduct surveys thatgather information with respect to patient satisfaction associated with hospital care and services. This serves as a tool for the standardized measurement of the quality of care administered at hospitals. The increased patient participation achieved through such patient engagement efforts would impact health outcomes and subsequently enhance the healthcare delivery of the present medical systems.
iDespite the fact that FDA recently cited Duchesnay for a violative Instagram Diclegis ad that featured celebrity Kim Kardashian, Instagram may be the social medium of choice of pharma marketers now that it has added a new feature.
Until now, I didn't think Instagram was good for pharma. While its demographics may skew too young for marketing most of the products pharma has to sell, it is a growing population. Plus, now that it is owned by Facebook, the demographics -- especially among women (the best target for drug marketing) -- will likely shift to resemble FB's demographics.
According to eMarketer, now that Instagram is open to all advertisers, by the end of 2016, 48.8% of marketers are expected to the platform.
Of course, due to FDA regulations, the necessity to expend resources to monitor comments for adverse reactions (read "One (BIG) Reason Pharma Shouldn't Reconsider Instagram"), lack of expertise in measuring social media ROI, etc., pharma marketers have not given social media a warm reception no matter what the platform.
Continue reading to see why I feel a new Instagram feature will make it more appealing to pharma marketers.
When it comes to incorporating digital and social media in their marketing strategies, drugmakers' efforts are still overshadowed by fear.
That's according to Mary Ann Belliveau, Twitter's national health and wellness director. There's a misperception that drugmakers can't use the platform because of regulatory limitations but in fact many firms are doing it and doing it well, she noted.
The tech giant's health team works with clients that include Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Aetna, Cigna, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. While the team's primary health focus is on pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and health insurance companies, wellness companies like fitness centers are also going to Twitter for strategy advice, added Katie Collins, lead healthcare strategist at Twitter.
“The most growth we've seen has been from pharmaceutical companies — both on the pharma side and the consumer product side — and also from hospitals,” said Belliveau.
Overall, the company reported its slowest revenue growth since it went public in 2013. But one reason Twitter may be seeing growth among healthcare companies is that it can help them reach active patient communities, said Belliveau. Because Twitter is an open platform, patients are quickly able to connect with each other using hashtags, share stories, and seek out information about their conditions.
Twitter's demographic profile is broader than some might think, with 23% of U.S. users aged 45 years old and older, and an almost equal ratio of men (49%) and women (51%) represented. Likewise, patient groups on the platform range from those with rare disease to more common diseases like diabetes, noted Collins.
“Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have realized that these conversations and this social care is the area they would like to communicate with, and advertise to,” said Belliveau.
“Where the conversations are happening has started to shift from traditional places to social media like Twitter,” added Collins. “So they're trying to figure out how to be a part of that.”
Here are eight tips for drugmakers and other healthcare companies to better utilize Twitter:
1. PLAN AHEAD
Plan around healthcare events and awareness days. Photo credit: Jenn Vargas/Creative Commons
Develop a content calendar focused on healthcare conferences and events as well as disease awareness days so there's time to develop quality content in advance, while also allowing flexibility for relevant in-the-moment content.
Having a content calendar is particularly helpful for companies that require a long approval process.
“The best companies have good processes in place,” said Collins. “For social, because it's real-time, they have processes in place to get things approved more quickly.”
2. DON'T SOUND LIKE A ROBOT
Successful brands deliver an authentic voice. Photo credit: Amber Case/Creative Commons
In other words, don't sound cold and sterile. Create a voice that humanizes your brand. Belliveau points to branded and unbranded handles such as @GilenyagoUSOnly, @Eloctate,@CosentyxUSOnly, @ActuallySheCan, and @WhySoAwake that are doing it well.
There's “an example of Gilenya replying directly to someone: ‘So glad you made it out. Thanks for coming,'” said Collins. “It's very casual conversational language. It's not clinical or scientific.”Handle Branded vs. Unbranded Company @GilenyagoUSOnly Branded Novartis @Eloctate Branded Biogen @CosentyxUSOnly Branded Novartis @ActuallySheCan Unbranded Allergan @WhySoAwake Unbranded Merck
“I think what makes [these handles] successful is that they're authentic,” said Belliveau. “When they're branded, they talk a lot about their brand and about health but not about the disease state. When they have video that has important safety information, then they do talk about the disease state and have patient testimonials.”
The executives recommend developing some pre-approved responses that are genuine, authentic, and ready to use when followers expect a reply.
3. LEVERAGE VIDEO
Mayo Clinic is using Periscope to live-stream procedures.
Video is the fastest growing creative component being used on Twitter, and such content tends to be driven by patient testimonials rather than by using a TV commercial format, said the executives.
“It's just more engaging, with sight, sound, and motion,” said Collins. “The brands that have done it well have excelled at creating relatable content and using good patient testimonials.”
When it comes to health, people are also apt to watch videos that last up to seven minutes, said Belliveau. She added that it's likely because they want to learn as much as they can about their condition or disease. Using video is a digestible way for people to consume information and for pharma to get around important safety information often seen at the end of a TV commercial, without a 140-character limit.
Additionally, some healthcare organizations are using Twitter's live video-streaming app Periscope. Periscope is being used at conferences, hospital systems such as the Mayo Clinic are using it to live-stream procedures, and insurance companies like Humana are using it to promote events they sponsor.
4. USE HASHTAGS TO DRIVE CONVERSATION
Hashtags have the ability to collect online conversations and house those conversations in a searchable way. Understanding the intentional use of a hashtag is key, and the executives say to use existing hashtags to be part of a larger conversation or create a new hashtag to initiate a brand's own conversation.
“Some companies want to be involved in hashtags that are already trending, like #DiabetesDay,” said Collins. “But then other companies want to start their own hashtag to be known for their own consistent message that they incorporate throughout all of their marketing.”
If you decide to create your own hashtag, incorporate it in your TV and print advertising as well, said Belliveau.
For example, Flonase's #BeGreater is used in different parts of the media strategy. GlaxoSmithKline makes the allergy medication.
“They did a trend on Twitter in spring that was “#BeGreater than your allergies,” where they asked users to submit photos of themselves being greater than than allergies, so they had all these submissions of people in a garden,” said Belliveau. “And then they followed it up in the fall with one around pets; hence, people sent in submissions of them with their pets.”
5. SET EXPECTATIONS
Place community guidelines in pinned tweets so users can understand what the expectations are from the get-go.
The team at Gilenya, Novartis's multiple-sclerosis drug, for example, pins these kinds of tweets to make clear that patients understand the company operates in a regulated industry and won't be able to respond to every tweet.
Drugmakers and other healthcare companies can also set expectations for response times. If the handle is monitored Monday through Friday, companies can use a pinned tweet to address delayed responses for weekend tweets to prevent frustrated customers.
“If I were to tweet at you on Saturday night at 11 pm, I have an understanding of what the timing is, the expectations,” said Collins.
6. DON'T IGNORE TWEETS, EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NEGATIVE
“When people tweet at you, they don't care if you're American Airlines, Spotify, or Novartis; they expect an answer,” explained Belliveau. “When you don't respond to to your patients, it's like having an empty call center.”
Being proactive, even when comments are negative, helps build brand confidence, Belliveau and Collins say.
They both recommend responding to negative comments publicly with a short message of acknowledgement and then resolving the issue privately.
“You'll see something like, ‘I'm sorry to hear that' or ‘We're disappointed you had a bad experience. Why don't you give us a call and we'll talk about it?'” said Belliveau.
That allows other followers of the handle to see the dialogue publicly and feel that the company cares about them.
At the end of the day, people want to be heard and the perception of negative comments is usually far worse than the reality, said Collins. “I've never had any companies stop the promotion of their handle because they say, ‘Oh my god. We're getting all this negative feedback and we didn't anticipate it.'”
7. INCLUDE TWITTER IN THE OVERALL MARKETING STRATEGY
Digital, TV, and print should all be part of a cohesive marketing strategy. Photo credit: Eigenberg Fotografie/Creative Commons
Companies and brands should have a cohesive approach to marketing that includes digital. TV and print is often siloed from digital, but it should be one strategy, said Belliveau.
“You're sometimes watching TV or reading a magazine, and you're often on your computer and phone, too,” said Belliveau. “It should all be integrated.”
“It's just another extension of the marketing mix that should be a part of everything,” added Collins.
8. SHARE BEST PRACTICES ABOUT HOW FDA-REGULATED COMPANIES CAN USE TWITTER
At this year's ePharma conference, Belliveau discussed how the pharma industry can navigate Twitter with attendees .
Even though the FDA lacks clear guidelines for how drugmakers can use digital platforms like Twitter or Facebook, there are ways to make it work, insisted the Twitter executives.
“Sharing best practices of what other companies are doing, being at conferences to meet people, and share what we're seeing really opens a lot of eyes, because there's so much internal confusion and lack of understanding of what's happening out there,” said Collins.
Twitter, Facebook, and Google have been involved in conversations with the FDA to better understand how the companies and brands regulated by the agency can best use social platforms, said Belliveau.
“We think that digital in general has really improved the way patients understand the side effects of their medication, because it's in a much more digestible fashion than when you open a box at a pharmacy, and the print is this small,” said Belliveau.
“Right or wrong, it's a much more informed and influenced consumer,” said Collins.
With investments in the digital health marketplace accelerating at a rapid pace, Astellas Pharma Inc. and DigiTx Partners LLC have announced that Astellas has launched DigiTx Partners, a digital health investment company in partnership with MPM Capital, Inc.
DigiTx Partners will invest in the digital health space broadly, with a special focus on companies which create solutions that improve patient outcomes and provide substantial synergy with a broader pharma business. Although the emphasis will be on earlier stage companies, investments will be made in both start-ups and growth stage companies.
Times are still good for the medical technology sector. Most companies still have strong gross margins, healthy growth in sales, and high valuation multiples. But the health care industry is undergoing a period of significant change. Medtech companies can take six actions to manage this transition and position themselves for long-term success.
In the first few years of the 2000s—the golden age for medtech—sales grew by double digits. But sales growth has leveled off considerably in recent years and now hovers at around 4%. (See Exhibit 1.) There are many reasons for this, including the pressure to reduce health care costs, the increasing power of economic stakeholders in purchasing decisions, more consolidated and sophisticated health systems, new low-cost competitors, and the ubiquity of information with which to assess value. [...]
Times are still good for medtech—but the health care industry as a whole is undergoing a period of significant change. These changes could create a downward spiral for companies that cling tightly to business as usual. But those that build their capabilities and adapt their business models will find enormous opportunities to grow and thrive. In this report, we identify the major forces that are reshaping the industry and outline the transformative actions that medtech companies should take in response to them. We also describe how to manage such a transformational effort. By leveraging BCG’s proven transformation framework, medtech companies can improve their financial positions, close performance gaps, and establish a winning position.
An 86-year-old grandmother in Liverpool recently performed a Google search that blew up the online universe. She entered: “Please translate these roman numerals mcmxcviii thank you.” Her post provided a timely reminder that while the aging population may speak a different language than the younger folks — and have different values and needs — its members are quite connected to the digital world.
Baby boomers, approximately born between 1946 and 1964, make up the majority of this aging group. They number more than 76 million in the U.S., and by 2029 they will account for a 73% increase in the population aged 65 and up. They now spend more money on technology than any other age group — and, what's more, two-thirds of them are now active on social media. According to recent research by content marketing agency Fractl, boomers are 19% likelier to share Facebook content than any other generation. Consider the myth about digitally challenged boomers to be well and truly debunked.
See also: Leadership Exchange: Engaging the Millennial Doctor
It follows, therefore, that this is a ripe demographic for digital health services and devices. In fact, it's now a matter of urgency: Boomers are less healthy and more costly, from a systemic perspective, than previous generations. According to the American Hospital Association, 37 million boomers will be managing multiple chronic conditions by 2030. One in four will have diabetes, almost half will suffer from arthritis, and more than a third will be classified as obese.
“The boomer group is a sick population,” says Zoe Dunn, principal, Hale Advisors. “They are heavily taxing our healthcare system.”
THE EMERGING CONSENSUS
Medicare spending topped $632 billion in 2015. The Congressional Budget Office projects an average annual increase of 1.4% per beneficiary between now and 2024. The most prevalent boomer ailments are interrelated, and lifestyle choices affect many of them.
The emerging consensus is that technology innovation offers the best hope of changing behaviors — that by approaching boomers with a variety of tech-related services and tools, healthcare and pharma can play a vital role in improving outcomes and reducing costs. The good news is that boomers, on the whole, willingly embrace digital healthcare. Decision Resources Group found in its 2015 ePharma Consumer study that 51% of U.S. adults, aged 55 and above, had researched Rx info online in the previous 12 months (versus 62% for all adults). Furthermore, 21% of the older demographic had done so using a mobile device.
See also: Why UCB isn't afraid of social media
Maryann Kuzel, SVP, head of healthcare strategy at Rapp, notes that a defining boomer characteristic is their high physician-trust level — so much so that she characterizes them as survivors of the physician-centric era. “They are somewhat more traditional in their healthcare beliefs and behaviors,” she explains. “They check in with their doctor more than other sources to seek help with both illness and wellness.”
However, such interactions are becoming increasingly digital. A recent Harris Poll commissioned by Salesforce showed that boomers are communicating with their primary care physicians via portals to look at health data (29%), view test results (24%), fill or refill prescriptions (12%), and check insurance coverage (10%). What's more, 57% of boomers said they would be open to virtual treatment options; 51% said they would choose a PCP who offers a patient app over one who does not; 37% said they would choose a PCP who offers virtual treatment over one who does not; and 29% said they would choose a PCP who uses data from patients' wearable devices over one who does not.
Managed care, too, is an important part of the digital health ecosystem, and insurers would be wise to focus more on aging populations. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island recently reached out to its newly eligible Medicare population for the first time via digital and social channels — with spectacular results, according to DMN. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island saw a 38% increase in online Medicare revenue, as well as a 50% application conversion rate (up from 27%). Furthermore, it reports that 50% of its Medicare traffic now comes via mobile.
WEARABLES YES, APPS MAYBE
We now know that boomers are searching for health info online, consuming and sharing content, using smartphones, and looking forward to a future of telemedicine. What about wearables and apps?
Dunn reports on her mother-in-law's unwavering dedication to reaching her daily step total. In terms of the wider boomer picture, the Harris Salesforce study reports that 20% of boomers currently own a wearable health-tracking device (13% fitness-related, 3% consumer-related, and 4% clinical-related). Of those owners, 74% say they would want their doctor to have access to data from their devices. Perhaps surprisingly, they are more likely to wear their devices daily (66%) than any other generation (55% for all users, and just 43% for millennials).
See also: Non-profit behind Free Killer Tan wants parents to practice sun safety
Also likely to be of interest to healthcare stakeholders: Forty-five percent of boomers said they would wear a tracking device given to them by their HCP in exchange for access to data, while 47% said they would wear one given to them by their insurance company in exchange for potentially better rates based on health data.
Boomers fare less well on app adoption: Nineteen percent said they use one app to track health, nutrition, or fitness data, while just 9% report using two or more apps. Of the latter group, 93% would like their apps to integrate and share data.
The well-documented burdens of the app world also apply to the boomer market. The majority of downloaded apps are rarely or never used — there are around 165,000 health and fitness apps. Another roadblock includes the lack of integration or interoperability between chronic disease apps, particularly for users managing coexisting conditions. There may also be a disconnect between young app developers and older boomer users, especially around special requirements regarding hearing, eyesight, and dexterity.
“GET OLD” WITH PFIZER
In short, med-tech companies need to work more closely with boomers to develop innovative products of true value to both users and the healthcare system. One pharma company on such a path is Pfizer. Back in 2012 Pfizer launched its Get Old program to “challenge misperceptions of aging” and “drive conversations that inspire people of all ages to take action on their own health and explore new opportunities.” Get Old now boasts a 400,000-strong community via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and its website.
“We've got a very active Facebook community and we recently launched on Instagram,” notes Sally Jacob, senior director, communications, Pfizer. “We've found that people love sharing motivational stories and images that turn conventional ideas about aging upside down.”
Pfizer recently launched a unique partnership with crowd-funding platform Indiegogo. Project Get Old challenged its own community members (along with Indiegogo's army of entrepreneurs) to come up with “the next big idea in healthy aging.”
The best idea will receive $50,000 in funding and an opportunity to meet with a team of Pfizer experts to help make that idea a reality. “It's a creative way to extend our mission from concept and conversation into something that could become a concrete program or product,” Jacob says.
At this point Pfizer is probably the exception rather than the rule. Matthew Arnold, principal analyst, DRG, believes pharma should place a greater digital focus on boomers. “If you're marketing a prescription drug to an older audience and you're not really investing in digital, you're missing an opportunity to engage half of your target demographic,” he says.
If your read my posts on a regular basis you will have already picked up that I think patient engagement – proper two-way dialogue and not just didactic communication – is critical for a successful pharmaceutical industry. So here are my top 5 reasons why patient engagement is critical for pharma.
The products made by the pharmaceutical industry have saved millions and millions of lives and transformed length and quality of life all over the world. But health is a very emotive subject and any little misdemeanour, like inappropriate marketing, lack of transparency or excessive pricing causes a lot of negativity. It’s also an industry that is misunderstood, with complex science, product development and go-to-market processes. Doing the right things is therefore not enough to repair reputation – the industry must connect directly with patients to humanise itself and help people understand the reality of how it works. In doing so, least some of the conspiracy theories might disappear, helping to improve reputation.
2. Patient influence is increasing
In the digital and social media age, the healthcare conversation has been democratised and the relationship between healthcare providers and patients has shifted. Patients are no longer the passive recipients of information and advice on how to manage their condition – they are going into armed with information from Dr Google and ready to challenge the medical experts. For an industry that has always dealt with complex customer networks of direct prescribers and influencers, Patient Opinion Leaders have become as important as medical Key Opinion Leaders and they are found everywhere. So even in the majority of markets where direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is banned, engaging with patients on disease level issues leads to a more informed point of prescription conversations, with a direct benefit for pharma.
3. The rise of digital health
Whether it’s in the context of communication, tracking data or therapeutic intervention, digital now permeates the entire health ecosystem. In response, pharmaceutical companies are investing heavily in technology, seeking to enhance the potential for their medicines through beyond-the-pill initiatives. Take a look at the best technology companies and you quickly realise how close to the consumer they are – good user experience and user-led design are critical components of some of the most successful companies, like Apple and Uber. Conversely, many digital pharma initiatives fail because they are developed in isolation. Good beyond-the-pill digital interventions can only be realised through co-creation with the patient, which requires constant engagement.
4. Value replaces efficacy
New medicines are no longer judged on the basis of efficacy, safety and quality. Outcomes are the buzzword in health systems today – the ability for medicines to deliver a positive outcome for a patient at the right price to justify it. The problem for pharma with outcomes is that they are dependent on many more factors than the clinical profile of the drug itself, such as whether patients actually take medicines as instructed, how they interact with other medicines where patients have multiple disorders and broader lifestyle factors that influence their disease. Despite the plethora of big data now available, sometimes the only way to really understand these game-changing factors is by speaking to real patients, on a regular basis.
5. Clinical trials need to reflect the real world
Building on the above point, the drug development process in the pharmaceutical industry has not changed significantly in decades. Phase I, II and III human trials are carried out under very controlled circumstances with highly targeted groups of test subjects, neither of which is necessarily representative of patients in the real world (hence the term ‘clinical’). R&D still remains the most expensive and risky area for pharma, with the average drug now costing billions of dollars to get to market. Within an environment where the update of medicines is determined by the results they deliver in the real world and not the clinic, patient input into clinical trial design is critical and engaging with patients early could save significant time and money.
So there you have it – 5 very simple reasons why patient engagement is not just about PR but is now fundamental to the commercial success of pharma companies. Let me know if you think there are other reasons I missed!
Washington’s powerful drug lobby is gearing up to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a post-election ad war pushing back against politicians from both parties who have savaged its members over drug prices.
The massive campaign by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) — expected to start positive by highlighting drugs that save or prolong lives — will dwarf the $20 million that health insurers spent on the iconic "Harry and Louise" campaign credited with sinking Hillary Clinton's health reform plan in the early 1990s.
And that’s just one part of a larger effort by the K Street lobbying powerhouse to seize control of the public narrative over drug prices and to reassert its dominance in Washington after several years in which it has taken a public shellacking over prices, with even reliable political allies in Congress questioning its pricing strategies. Both Clinton and Donald Trump, for instance, are urging changes in the law that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
PhRMA wants to drive a broader discussion on health costs, emphasizing that other players must play a role in tamping down costs and offering to work with insurers and others to find solutions, senior company officials and lobbyists said.
"The reality and the message and the playbook used for a number of years is over," said Bill Pierce, senior director of the public affairs firm APCO Worldwide, which represents several drug companies, and a former HHS official under President George W. Bush.
The industry can no longer defend high drug prices by pointing to the pricey research and development that goes into innovative medicines. "They have to move on," he said.
Drug companies are used to Democrats attacking prices, but Republicans are also starting to chide the industry for large hikes on old drugs and raising concerns about the financial burden that prescription drugs place on entitlement programs.
Just last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressed concern that drug companies "might be exploiting" Medicare's prescription drug benefit "to maximize their market share." The program's catastrophic coverage requires the government to pick up the tab for most patients' drug costs after $4,850 per year — spending which has increased by 85 percent in three years.
Those and other calls — including the demand by both presidential candidates that Medicare negotiate drug prices — have awakened a sleeping giant, which routinely spends more on lobbying than any other health care group and took in more than $200 million in member dues in 2014, compared to about $80 million for the American Hospital Association and about $41 million for America's Health Insurance Plans.
The group's playbook for 2017 includes adding new members, raising dues and retooling a lobbying machine that insiders say atrophied since PhRMA achieved many of its top goals with Obamacare's passage. Now it's ready to shout its message not just inside the corridors of power but beyond the Beltway.
Of the 147 Patients’ Groups That Co-Signed Industry Opposition Letters to Congress and CMS, at Least Three in Four Get Funding From Big Pharma
The overwhelming majority of patients’ groups opposing a Medicare Part B proposal to reduce drug expenditures got funding from the pharmaceutical industry, according to a new Public Citizen report.
The report, “Patients’ Groups and Big Pharma,” examined industry funding for 147 patients’ groups publicly opposing the Medicare Part B proposal, documenting disclosures of funding and sponsorships from the drug and medical device industry to 110 of those groups (75 percent of the total).
The patients’ groups voiced their opposition to the Medicare Part B reforms by signing either a letter to congressional leadership (organized by the Community Oncology Alliance) or a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (organized by the Partnership to Improve Patient Care). An additional 241 groups, mostly associated with doctors or the pharmaceutical industry – both of which have a financial incentive for opposing the reforms – also signed letters.
Because the report’s findings are based on voluntary disclosures that patients’ groups and pharmaceutical companies provide, they likely underrepresent the proportion of patients’ groups receiving pharmaceutical industry sponsorship. Total amounts of how much the groups receive from the industry are mostly unknown.
The Medicare Part B demonstration project, which Public Citizen supports along with numerous allied consumer and health groups, aims to remove incentives for needlessly prescribing high-priced medicines when equally effective and affordable alternatives are available.
These findings come on the heels of a recent Public Citizen report revealing that members of the U.S. House of Representatives who oppose the reform received 82 percent more in campaign contributions from pharma than members who are not opposed.
“While it is certainly not the case that every patient group that takes industry money is a Big Pharma puppet, the fact that three-quarters of the patients’ groups opposing these reforms receive industry money should make policymakers skeptical of these groups’ independence,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report.