by Leo Jakobson | February 01, 2017

If there is one certainty in the pharmaceutical industry right now, it is that no one really has any idea what tomorrow will bring. With the Republican-led Congress planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within weeks (if it has not been repealed already by the time you're reading this), and President Donald Trump vowing that it will be replaced -- and replaced quickly -- by a law that provides "insurance for everybody," calling the situation fluid is an understatement.

That said, all of the high-profile legislating and political dogfighting has not really had much impact on the meetings and events strategy of the pharmaceutical and life-sciences industry right now, except for a brief burst of concern in the immediate aftermath of the election.

"Right after the election I was probably getting 50 to 60 emails a week from planners asking, 'What's going on? What's going to happen? Is this going away?'" says Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC, and senior director, healthcare compliance, for Maritz Travel -- A Maritz Global Events Company. That soon faded, notes Schaumann, who founded the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC) industry certification, and until recently ran it for Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

It quickly returned to "business as usual," Schaumann says, at least in terms of following the Open Payments regulations that require detailed reports of how much pharmaceutical and life-sciences firms spend on each doctor or other healthcare provider (HCP) who attends a meeting or event. Even though these rules are part of the ACA -- so there is certainly the potential for repeal to have some impact -- industry planners by and large assume that this will be incorporated into the new law.

This equanimity largely survived a Jan. 11 press conference by Trump in which he accused the industry of "getting away with murder," and promised to cut what the government spends on prescription drugs under Medicare and Medicaid by instituting price bidding -- something both the industry and Congressional Republicans have long opposed -- causing pharmaceutical stock prices to drop by 3 percent almost immediately.

 

Mike Roberts
Infinix Global Meetings & Events

Mike Roberts, president and COO of Infinix Global Meetings & Events, which has a major medical meetings division in Rx Worldwide Life Sciences, points out that what Trump was talking about was the price paid by Medicare and Medicaid for drugs, "not what you and I get through Aetna or Blue Cross/Blue Shield." He notes, "The government already has a low negotiated price for drugs. Increased competition might drive that a little lower, but probably not a lot."


Here to Stay
"Even if Open Payments does go away, pharmaceutical and medical device companies will keep their compliance rules," Schaumann predicts. "No one is changing anything and that's a good thing."

That is a common perspective in the medical meetings planning community, agrees Chelsea Rowe, a meeting planning manager for a U.S. medical devices company. "Over time this has just become how we work," she says. "We have to report. We have to be concerned with how much money we're spending on healthcare professionals, and healthcare organizations. I don't see that changing. If the new president repeals the Open Payments requirement and one company just stops, but its competitors keep doing it, what does that say about them? Are they hiding something?"

 

Kathi Donovan, Bristol-Myers Squibb

Uncertainty is something that the pharmaceutical industry is used to, if not comfortable with. "In this industry, there's always uncertainty about the research that we're doing and the outcomes of that research," says Kathi Donovan, CMP, HMCC, associate director -- global meetings management for Bristol-Myers Squibb. "We are used to that. As far as the ACA, I don't feel we're in a position yet to know what the outcome will be."

That said, Donovan believes Open Payments was a good thing for pharmaceutical industry meetings. "Where in the past none of that information was disclosed, it definitely holds everyone more accountable," Donovan says. "We're definitely being held at a higher standard for accountability in reporting. It's holding everyone accountable."

Besides, pharmaceutical companies still have to follow Open Payments--style reporting requirements for HCPs from nearly 90 countries who attend meetings in the U.S., a number that is expected to grow to include all developed countries in the next few years, Schaumann says.

Ashley Williams, group director of project services and delivery at Plan 365, a BCD Meetings & Events company, says that after three years of Open Payments reporting, clients are "more concerned that the content of the meeting is relevant and valuable to the HCP attendees than they are about compliance considerations, which they assume to be well managed."