Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: Price transparency, measles and continued disruption

The reading habits of SmartBrief's health care audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across the health care space, and our newsletter engagement data also sheds light on what's keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, providers and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here's what was top of mind for all of them in Q2, as well as a look at what's next.

The real price of everything

As many health care stakeholders know all too well after implementation of the Affordable Care Act, shopping for health insurance (or medical care or prescription drugs) is not quite the same as shopping for throw pillows on Amazon. But the rise of consumerism, coupled with frustration over the cost of health care, continues to fuel efforts to simplify – or at least shine a light on -- the complex nature of health care pricing. In Q2, the push for health care price transparency came to pharma, when the CMS issued its final rule on drug price disclosure in TV ads.  Conversations about the role of rebates in prescription drug pricing have quieted for now, but another price transparency movement has kicked up in the form of an executive order and proposed legislative action on unexpected medical bills.

What’s next: The complicated pricing structures woven into the US health care system were not created in a day, so even if momentum toward transparency continues, it will be a while before Americans are comparison-shopping for MRIs. Drugmakers are pushing back against including list prices in advertising, and in the second week of Q3 a judge blocked implementation of the rule. Another rule was shelved when the Trump administration rescinded plans to require pharmacy benefit managers and insurers to pass rebates to consumers.  Meanwhile, an array of stakeholders has warned of anti-competitive consequences if negotiated rates for health care must be shared publicly. The only thing that seems certain is with an executive order out, Congress talking about the issue, and medical bills catching attention on social media, the debate over price transparency won’t go away.

The measles outbreak

In late April, the 2019 measles caseload reached a new high since 1994, and as cases have continued to mount, the news has been top of mind among many of SmartBrief’s readers. Elimination of the disease from the US was a major public health success that is now in danger of being wiped out, a revelation that has sparked a flurry of legislative activity as states and municipalities explore their options for instituting vaccination mandates.

What’s next: If the measles outbreak continues into October, the US could lose its measles elimination status, dealing a major blow to progress against preventable infectious disease. The rising tide of infections does seem to be slowing, but it’s clear that antivaccination sentiment (not to mention the political ramifications of tightening vaccination requirements) will be a challenge for some time to come. This is a conversation that will continue in America’s clinics, where doctors and nurses must fight misinformation.  But this conversation also has importance for social media – where antivaxxers often congregate – as well as for marketers, public health advocates and others. Although the science on vaccine safety is clear, that message has clearly not reached everyone who needs to hear it.

Disruption (hello, Amazon) and its ripple effects

Disruption may be both the greatest threat and the biggest opportunity in health care, and companies are looking to one another to prepare. Life sciences companies are exploring acquisitions as a way to diversify pipelines and move into new spaces. Health care providers and insurers continue to develop new partnerships – or make good on promises made when existing partnerships were forged. And the industry continues to watch tech with interest and worry, especially Amazon (from HIPAA-compliant Alexa to whether it will it be the next big thing in pharmacy).    

What’s next: Garden-variety consolidation typically raises concerns about competition and pricing, and that is something to watch. More interesting, perhaps, are the scenarios where disparate partners come together to make something new, like the much-discussed union of CVS and Aetna, or less prominently the creation of a drug company by Clover Health to meet the needs of its own members. Meanwhile, external forces from tech will continue to garner attention, and the new capabilities they bring are catching the interest of the FDA, which is exploring regulatory oversight of AI. It’s sure to be another interesting quarter.

More top trends

Check out a snapshot of the top health care and life sciences stories from Q2 below. Want to align your messages around the trending health care topics? Download our guide to learn more.

Melissa Turner is director of health care and life sciences content at SmartBrief. She edits science, medical and health care delivery newsletters and oversees development of content marketing pieces for SmartBrief’s health care clients.

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This feature reflects the most read items across SmartBrief's health care and life sciences publications. Check out all of SmartBrief’s health care newsletters, covering health IT, news for insurers, news for providers and more to get news like this delivered straight to your inbox. Also, be sure to check out opportunities to reach SmartBrief's readers with your own content and solutions.