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Brainstorm Health: Big Pharma Price Increases, Apple Aetna Health App, Medicare for All

Hello, readers.

With another presidential election cycle already upon us (brace yourselves), drug pricing is going to be a front and center issue yet again. And big pharma companies appear to be acknowledging both that reality, and the deeper wake-up call, that increasing list prices ad nauseum isn’t exactly a winning business strategy over the long term.

As we’ve reported on numerous occasions, drug makers haven’t exactly been shy about raising prices even in the face of widespread public backlash to the strategy. But newly minted Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla may have signaled a shift in that trend during a somber earnings call on Tuesday.

Bourla essentially admitted that a strategy of price increases and M&A wouldn’t be enough to prop up the company’s bottom line. That growth must come from the bread and butter of the pharma industry, he said – innovative new products that can increase Pfizer’s market share. That becomes an increasingly critical goal as key Pfizer drugs like Lyrica bleed market share to generic competitors.

Specifically, Bourla said that price increases simply wouldn’t cut it in the U.S. or abroad, for both political and underlying business reasons. That appears to be a reality that other companies like Johnson & Johnson and Allergan are also coming to terms with; a significant expansion of the customer base, or truly landmark new products, or (ideally) a combination of both, will have to be the solution to big pharma’s devastating ROI problem.

The specter of the 2020 presidential campaign will undoubtedly shape these industry leaders’ positions as well, with politicians from both sides of the aisle (including President Donald Trump) sharply critical of drug price increases.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Apple, Aetna link up on health app project. Health insurer Aetna and Apple are teaming up to create a new Apple Watch-based health app called “Attain.” As with many of Apple’s medical initiatives, the project is based on data collection with the objective of improving broad population health. From the app’s website, it’s clear there’s a major gamification element to it as well, offering users rewards for meeting certain objectives. (TechCrunch)


J&J asked for documents on talc, baby powder safety in long running drama. Reuters reports that Sen. Patty Murray has sent a letter to drug giant Johnson & Johnson asking for documents related to allegations that the company knew about potential asbestos contamination in its talc-based baby and feminine hygiene products. Here’s what J&J had to say about the request: “As we have consistently stated, we firmly stand behind the safety and purity of our talc, which has been confirmed by thousands of independent tests by regulators worldwide, including the U.S. FDA and many of the world’s leading independent laboratories.” (Reuters)


Medicare for All appears to be a campaign certainty for Democrats. Health care is definitively on the ballot in 2020 – and, if early embrace by everyone from Sen. Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren is any indication, get ready for universal health care to be a focal point. The concept of “universal health care” has been broadly popular among Democrats for years; but what the current campaign season will reveal is the contours of what, exactly, that means. Would Medicare become a program offering a public option of sorts; would it preserve the various private elements, such as Medicare Advantage and the Part D prescription drug program? Or would private insurance be phased out altogether? All of those are radical changes that would almost undoubtedly galvanize industry opposition.


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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