Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Watching Paint Dry

I’m fascinated by the healthcare reform debate that’s currently underway in the U.S. both inside the Houses of Congress and without. Last week, everyone in the country became experts in the arcana of the Senate’s reconciliation rules. This week, we’re all becoming familiar with President Obama’s travel schedule. Oh, and, let’s not forget the furies that have been unleashed at the health insurance providers. (I loved that move on the part of the President. A friend of mine who is a rabid opponent of healthcare reform rallied to that one. As he said, “Who doesn’t hate the health insurance companies?”)

The absence of Big Pharma from this debate is obvious. As I blogged last week, they appear to be in the President’s camp but their silence is deafening. Given all that’s at stake here I find that response, or, more accurately, lack of one, puzzling.

Maybe, just maybe, healthcare reform is not all that it’s knocked up to be for Big Pharma. The argument advanced by some (see Janet Adamy’s and Greg Hitt’s article in the Wall Street Journal,
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125590875879693189.html?mod=rss_whats_news_us ) that the drug companies will profit from all the sales to customers who couldn’t afford their wares reg Hitt, previously. That assumes Big Pharma has something to sell. This blog has noted previously the struggling new product pipelines at many drug companies. Now, the generic manufacturers may have something to crow about but I doubt their more upscale brethren will.

OK, you don’t buy the drying up pipeline argument. You say that new product development is not a straight line always headed up. You believe that research and development is a fitful, creative process with long dry spells frequently the result. I buy that. There is historical precedent. Now, let’s stop and think who’s going to be footing the bill for all this. The Federal government and the insurance companies. Am I the only one who thinks that these august institutions won’t figure out a way to squeeze volume purchase discounts from the drug companies? The drug companies are doing it to their own suppliers and even their own employees. Or, the Federal government could fall back on their old standard – price controls.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I don’t believe that healthcare reform will be beneficial to Big Pharma and other life sciences companies. Yes, more products may be sold to more people but at lower prices. Doctors will probably be second guessed over treatments. Stories have been around for years of nurses paid by health insurers second guessing physicians over treatments and medications. These practices will only continue and grow in all likelihood.

I’ve stuck my neck out now and given my position. There may be a vote on healthcare reform in the next week. If it passes, and the jury’s still out on this one, then I think we’ll see an interesting time for Big Pharma in the next several months.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at larryrothmansblog@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

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