One Super Bowl game, 1.33 billion chicken wings and 12.5 million pizzas later, we know the feeling all too well. So we’ll wrap up this intro, grab our emotional support peacock, and get right to the headlines from last week.

Read on for The Week That Was...


By now, you’ve seen the headlines that power CEOs Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon are combining forces to create their own “healthcare company.” Although the announcement omitted specific plans, we know that the company will focus on “technology solutions” to provide “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” The announcement sent stocks of PBMs and health insurance companies tumbling and turned up the heat on factors driving the rising cost of healthcare. It also raised concerns about data privacy for employees in a new era where Amazon not only knows your weekly grocery list, but could also have insight into your medical history.


We’ve seen companies take unique approaches to employee healthcare, and there is speculation that the 1.2 million people employed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase is just the start of what could eventually grow into an “Amazon Prime” healthcare offering for the general public. But, there is great skepticism. The companies don’t share similar locations, have limited control to impact the health systems in their markets, and even with a large workforce, they may still not have the negotiating power of a large PBM.

In the meantime, while details are still unknown, healthcare companies will be grilled about the “disruption,” so we advise preparing reactive Q&As for your staff and executives so they can address questions—and reassert your company’s differentiated value proposition—as the initiative evolves.


Let’s just say things were busy last week in Washington.

  • Say hello to a new HHS Secretary and goodbye to the CDC Director: Alex Azar was sworn in on Monday as Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. He is the first pharma alum to lead the agency. President Trump said Azar’s priorities will be lowering drug prices, rolling back regulations contributing to costs, and addressing opioid addiction. Days later, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, stepped down after Politico reported that she traded tobacco stocks after taking on the position. Fitzgerald was reportedly unaware of the investments, but the holdings fell in “stark contrast” to the CDC’s public health mission, which includes reducing tobacco use, and represented potential conflicts of interest. 
  • At the Capitol, President Trump endorsed “right-to-try” legislation in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, and again at a Republican Congressional retreat. Trump and Vice President Pence have spoken previously about stalled legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to try investigational medicines without FDA oversight. The legislation would not require a pharmaceutical company to make the therapy available to requesting patients. Some doctors and bioethicists are already saying no way to the legislation.
  • Last but not least, Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW announced that the group is taking on pharma via D.C. The group is planning to shell out big money to back candidates in the midterm elections who support policies aimed at lowering drug prices and will run ads countering the industry’s lobbying efforts. Funding for the initiative is coming from an advocacy group sponsored by Laura and John Arnold, who made news last year granting ICER nearly $14M.


It’s a “wait and see” game for healthcare in Washington. With so many items on the agenda and recent changes in leadership, it may be some time before we see further action on the administration’s health-related priorities. We’ll be interested to see how Secretary Azar addresses his remit from the President, or whether much of the execution of these goals will continue to reside with Commissioner Gottlieb, who has been actively pushing a pro-competition, pro-generics approach since taking the helm of the FDA.


In November, we shared Chobani’s new effort to re-brand the business as a food-focused wellness company. Fast-forward two months. Chobani rolled out new packaging with the effort in an attempt to make its yogurts pop on overcrowded supermarket shelves. After the packaging hit stores, Chobani was inundated with negative feedback on the company’s social channels. Customers likened the smell to “chemicals” and an “old ashtray,” and worried about product safety. Chobani sent personalized responses to complaints promising to look into the matter and followed up with handwritten letters. It turns out that the products were safe, but that the odor was caused by excess FDA-approved, food-grade coating. The company addressed the issue and now all is right in the world for yogurt aficionados.


Chobani gets five stars for a responsive approach to the issue. Having social listening mechanisms and a rapid response plan in place allowed the company to immediately receive input on product issues and to address them as quickly and as transparently as possible, which reassured customers and limited media coverage.  While issues facing life sciences companies and health plans may not be addressed as easily, we advise the same level of responsiveness when launching healthcare initiatives, new medicines, and even expanding indications for medicines currently on the market. Anticipate questions and issues from across stakeholder groups, know which stakeholders are most like to raise—and spread—concerns, and, if and when a problem does materialize, let your audiences know that they’ve been heard and the company is working find a solution.

Until next week,    

- the Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ Syneos Health Communications

About the Author:

We are a team of healthcare communicators, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. Drawing upon professional experiences from Congress, CMS, HHS, hospitals, and health technology—and our collective work in rare disease, oncology, diabetes, gene therapy, pain management and infectious disease—we provide unique solutions to the evolving messaging challenges in today’s healthcare industry. We support our clients with evidence-based approaches to preventing pricing pushback, protecting brands from modern activism, establishing and communicating clear policies surrounding expanded access to medicines, and a proactive approach to value frameworks. Our offerings also include product safety, litigation, regulatory risks, ex-U.S. considerations and policymaker investigations.