As Washington turns up the heat on drug prices, healthcare marketers are caught in the middle between pharma and legislators.
The pharmaceutical industry is facing Congressional investigations, new rules and programs from government health agencies, and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers drafting bills to address high drug costs. Some of these actions specifically affect pharma marketers, like the proposal to put drug prices in DTC television ads or the bill to remove the tax deduction for pharma advertising.
Coalition for Healthcare Communication executive director Jon Bigelow urged the industry to speak up for itself at MM&M’s Evolution of the Agency Universe event in New York on Wednesday.
“We need to state our value to the healthcare system and the emphasis we put on ethical, accurate work,” he said. “Do not assume it is already understood; do not assume other groups will argue in favor of healthcare communications. This is not a high priority for other groups. We need to be proactive in promoting what we do and let Washington hear our voice.”
Bigelow, who replaced longtime leader John Kamp as the CHC’s leader last year, said there are four areas to watch in Washington in 2019: drug prices, data privacy, taxes, and the Food and Drug Administration.
The Trump administration is working on addressing high drug prices from many angles. Congress will likely take up drug pricing bills, potentially related to transparency, price negotiation, or competition, this year, Bigelow said. Federal health agencies are also implementing plans to lower prices this year, like the Medicare program that would base prices on an international standard.
Pharma marketers should also pay attention to action on data privacy as criticism of platforms such as Facebook and Google grows louder. Some states, such as California, are implementing their own privacy laws, while federal lawmakers are considering how to regulate the industry. For marketers, it could affect how data is collected and used for advertising.
“The age of self-regulation [in data privacy] is over,” Bigelow said. “Healthcare is not immune. The advent of HIPAA gave healthcare communicators a privacy culture before the rest of the world had it, but we are all only as good as vendors from whom we’re getting our lists.”
As budget and debt ceiling deadlines come up, lawmakers will start to look for ways to make up money for the government. One idea that affects pharma marketing has been proposed, Bigelow said. Several senators have introduced a bill to remove the tax deduction for pharma DTC advertising.
At the FDA, Bigelow said he expects Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to continue on the path of streamlining and improving efficiency at the agency. So far, his tenure has led to a record number of drug approvals in one year and fewer warning letters than in the past, which is generally good for the industry.
“We have to maintain high standards of integrity in what we’re doing,” Bigelow said. “We have to be alert for threats in legislation or trends that will affect our ability to get information to the people prescribing products and the patients receiving those products.”