Health care’s access dilemma and lessons from Brainstorm Health

Hi, readers. Marco filling in for Sy today.

This week was full of interesting conversations and stories out of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Just to recap, over the course of two days, the CEOs of Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Zoom, Abbott, Anthem, and more talked about vaccines and mental health, among a plethora of other issues. For instance, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said Tuesday that the company is working to develop a single shot for both COVID and flu protection.

What particularly stood out to me in the first day of the conference was a key word: Access. This includes access to breaks and services to ease employee struggles and access to quality food, which were both subjects our speakers touched on.

Workers’ mental health suffered during the pandemic, too, but some employers such as Best Buy Health were able to acknowledge the problem and try to make the lives of their employees a little easier.

During one session on Tuesday, Deborah DiSanzo, president of Best Buy Health, said her company gave their employees paid breaks to do yoga and meditation and had supervisors provide them hot meals in the office.

Best Buy Health employees also benefited from a $10 million fund established by Best Buy with support from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation to help employees with hardships like clearing backed up sewers, fixing up their houses, or helping pay for child care.

While these employers were supporting employees, pharmaceutical companies were supporting each other.

Although pharma businesses aren’t always known for lending each other a hand, a big part of Brainstorm Health’s second day focused on companies’ collaborations when COVID emerged as a common enemy.

As my colleague Sheryl Estrada pointed out, this collaboration between companies has served to help tackle the health inequities brought on by the pandemic.

In another striking session underscoring this spirit of collaboration, Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Salt Lake City, said his organization is collecting data in their clinical programs, along with a number of other hospital systems, to understand where they can improve and “…have standardized approaches to how data is organized, so that patients can actually benefit from a free flow of information.”

Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, who shared the stage with Harrison, said his system of health care providers and nonprofit health plans is looking to provide virtual urgent care on demand across the country to reach more communities in need.

Harrison said he keeps Adams’ phone number “on speed dial.”

Read on for more news related to the conference and beyond.

Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez


The complicated state of GoodRx. GoodRx is one of the more innovative companies in the health care space. It has a noble mission: To cut the cost of prescription drugs which can bankrupt Americans or leave them without access to life-saving treatments. But as my colleague Erika Fry highlights in a typically excellent dive into the firm, and what its success says about the nature of American medicine, there's a more nuanced story to tell here. "The company—and some analysts, too—like to say, with GoodRx, everyone wins: Consumers can afford their medications, saving money and bettering their health; providers and insurers gain patients who are more likely and able to take their meds as prescribed; and manufacturers, drugstores, and the pharmacy benefit managers (which manage drug claims for insurers), gain revenue on prescriptions that, at a higher price, may have been abandoned at the checkout," Erika writes. "But the biggest winner of all, of course, is GoodRx, which in just over a decade has managed to carve out this benign-seeming role and insinuate itself—as yet another middleman—into this deeply entrenched, thickly padded corner of American health care." (Fortune)


Not all vaccines are doing well. While vaccines have been the knight in shining armor during the COVID pandemic and a sign of the pharma industry's ability to innovate, not all vaccines are succeeding during the outbreak. As BioPharma Dive reports, pneumonia, HPV, and shingles vaccines made by life science giants Merck and GlaxoSmithKline took sales hits. And both companies laid the blame at the feet of the pandemic, which they say has disrupted routine doctor visits and been complicated by recommendations to not receive other vaccines within weeks of getting a COVID shot. It's a strange bit of irony given that these are two of the world's largest vaccine makers, but without much of a footprint in the coronavirus vaccine market. (BioPharma Dive)


President Biden brings health care, COVID front and center in address to Congress. President Joe Biden on Wednesday delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, and health care was front and center early on in what wound up being a sprawling 70-minute speech. As expected, Biden emphasized the need to maintain vigilance in the fight against COVID while touting the United States' vaccination numbers to date. But he also hit on other significant health care themes via advocacy for the administration's proposed economic and family support packages - an extensive list of safety net expansions that includes negotiating the prices of prescription drugs and cementing expanded premium and out-of-pocket assistance for people who receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Of course, the fate of such an ambitious plan is very much up in the air. (Roll Call)


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