Get ready, it is mid-term season! And healthcare is HUUUUGE this cycle. According to voters, healthcare (and its costs) is one of the most important issues cited as we head into elections. And it has not gone unnoticed by campaigns from both political parties. Politicians are 3x more likely to be asked about “healthcare costs” than other health-related issues. Voters say “unexpected healthcare bills” are among their greatest worries.
More than ONE MILLION ads have aired related to House and Senate races, and many of them focus on the candidates’ positions on prescription drug costs. If you don’t live in one of the more competitive districts, you may have missed these ads. So, to catch you up on what’s dominating the air waves please enjoy this week’s special edition of The Week That Was: At the Races…


Readers, if you’re not living in a highly contested district, you’ve missed out on some pointed advertising about the pharmaceutical industry. Healthcare ads are estimated to account for nearly half the content of ads by Democratic candidates and one-third of ads run by Republican House candidates, or their affiliated groups. In dozens of Congressional districts, candidates are being name checked for accepting campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies -- often with an attempt to connect the donations to unpopular legislative votes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is running TV ads that discuss pharma money in districts as diverse as CA-45 in Orange County to ME-02 in Maine, the second most rural district in the nation.

No other industry’s campaign contributions are being used similarly. So, why is this happening? Well, it doesn’t help that pharma is the 2nd least-popular industry sector in America -- just ahead of the federal government. Wah wah.
And to prove to you we don’t take sides, click the below images to view attack ads on the right and the left that reference big pharma contributions.


Click images to see ads.


New polling from Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that most Americans think that drug prices are too high and blame drug companies, even if individuals say their own costs are manageable. Additionally, polls find they have little faith that the President’s Blueprint to lower drug prices will turn things around. For example, just 37% of Americans believe POTUS’s plan will lower drug costs for Medicare patients. However, there are some proposals from the President’s plan that are heavily supported by the electorate:

  • 2 out of 3 Americans support increasing generic and biosimilar competition. 
  • 4 out of 5 Americans support overturning the pharmacist “gag rule” that prohibits pharmacists from telling consumers when retail prices are cheaper than their insurance copay.
  • 3 of 5 Americans support disclosing drug list prices in DTC ads. 
In New Jersey (the land of pharmaceuticals) former industry executive Bob Hugin’s candidacy has made drug pricing a central issue. The Republican candidate has run at least two different ads blaming his competitor Senator Menendez for high drug prices and making generic entry more difficult. Meanwhile, the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, has spun off a Super PAC, and launched a $1.5 million ad buy targeting Hugin as being responsible for steady price increases.

Click images to see ads.

Nearly 200,000 ads ran in House and Senate races during the first half of September, and prescription drugs were the third most-common topic among Senate ads. The sheer volume and the frequency with which prescription drug costs are mentioned will have a lasting impact on voter perceptions well into 2019. And these figures don’t include digital ad buys, direct mail pieces, candidate debates and earned media opportunities.
So, what’s a life-sciences company to do?

  • Have a point of view. Drug costs are one of the most polarizing issues of our time. You can’t avoid it, so have a company-wide point of view – and be ready to articulate what you are doing to support innovation, access and affordability. 
  • Arm your people with the facts. Hard-working biopharma employees live in communities and states where these ads are showing. Arm them with information about where your company stands and what it does to ensure patients can access the medicines they need 
  • Educate. Help Americans understand the industry better by showing how your science is changing lives, bringing value to the country, to patients and to doctors. Encourage others, such as patients and KOLs to help show the impact of your medicines.


Don’t worry, we kept track of this week’s other top news as well….

  • According to the CDC, last winter’s flu season was the worst in nearly 40 years.  The Center blamed the particularly deadly strain of the flu and limited effectiveness of vaccines. But it warns that’s no reason to be a complacent. Have you gotten your flu shot yet?
  • At the United Nations General Assembly last week, global healthcare was a major topic. A High Level Meeting focused on the fight to end the global epidemic of tuberculosis around the world and how to reach the untreated population with prevention and care.
  • It was a biosimilar boxing match last week as leading pharmaceutical companies were uncharacteristically public in attacking each other’s PR efforts to either support or undermine the interchangeability of biosimilars. Read it for yourself!!

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.