. How Medical Meeting Planners Are Preparing for Trump | Successful Meetings

How Medical Meeting Planners Are Preparing for Trump

Pharmaceutical meeting planners don't see a big impact from the Affordable Care Act's potential repeal

MEDICAL MEETINGS Feb 2017 opener

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 With the Republican-led Congress planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within weeks (if it has not been repealed already by the time you're reading this), and President Donald Trump vowing that it will be replaced -- and replaced quickly -- by a law that provides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, 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
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."


Still Good Business
A part of the medical meetings industry that has changed is the comfort level that pharmaceutical companies have with the hotel choice guidelines and food-and-beverage price maximums they have put in place over the past three years.

On the hotel front, it's fairly simple: "We are looking for purely business locations," says Rowe. "We're not looking at a resort community anymore, or the physician putting a personal vacation on the tail end."

Whether hotels are looking for medical meetings is another question. "Hotels began saying 'no' last year to medical meetings, which used to be their bread and butter," says Schaumann, who still teaches the HMCC course she created, and thus hears from many medical meeting planners and suppliers. "Not only are the food-and-beverage price caps making it very hard for them, there are also the nondisclosure agreements that say they can't have competitors in the hotel at the same time. I think the hotels are evaluating this business more closely and saying, 'Listen, we have to look at our budgets, and this may not be a good piece of business for us.'"

Not everyone agrees. Bonnie Weiss, director of global pharmaceutical sales for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, says, "sometimes it may not be the best fit for the individual hotel, but pharmaceutical meetings are a wonderful part of the business and we welcome it. The individual piece of business has to make sense for the hotel and the hotel has to fit with the group, but I've never heard anyone saying they don't want pharmaceutical business."

That's what Bristol-Myers Squibb's Donovan sees on the other side of the negotiation. "The hotels want our business. We've heard from the hotels that our business is very valuable to them. They are willing to work with us on our food-and-beverage maximums so that they can continue to have the pharmaceutical meetings in their hotels."

The volume of meetings that pharmaceutical companies book is one reason, Donovan adds. "We do quarterly reviews with the hotels that we have contracts with," she says. "We have global agreements with them. We look at volume year-over-year. We look at what large meetings and small meetings they possibly may have won or lost and the reasons why."


Feeding Causes Difficulties
The biggest hurdle medical meeting planners face is the food-and-beverage maximums that each pharmaceutical firm has determined meets the Open Payments rules' vague standards on what is a "reasonable" cap on meal prices. Then add in the fact that many other countries' versions of Open Payments do set hard price caps -- often very low by U.S. standards -- and you've got a recipe for confusion and some awkward situations.

The alternative can be worse, Schaumann says, noting that she's seen dinners hosted by major pharmaceutical companies featuring a $175 plated dinner, topped off with wine. "And over here, on the side, is a table with a tent card that says 'Poland' or 'Italy' and they'll get a sandwich," she says. "It's just ridiculous."

Giving the example of a meeting on which the meal cap for U.S. doctors is $125, but the German attendees are maxed at $60 by law, Rowe says, "My advice is just take the lowest common denominator, put everyone on Germany's limitations, so that the experience is the same, the quality is the same." She adds, "It does makes it very, very difficult."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.

Still Good Business
A part of the medical meetings industry that has changed is the comfort level that pharmaceutical companies have with the hotel choice guidelines and food-and-beverage price maximums they have put in place over the past three years.

On the hotel front, it's fairly simple: "We are looking for purely business locations," says Rowe. "We're not looking at a resort community anymore, or the physician putting a personal vacation on the tail end."

Whether hotels are looking for medical meetings is another question. "Hotels began saying 'no' last year to medical meetings, which used to be their bread and butter," says Schaumann, who still teaches the HMCC course she created, and thus hears from many medical meeting planners and suppliers. "Not only are the food-and-beverage price caps making it very hard for them, there are also the nondisclosure agreements that say they can't have competitors in the hotel at the same time. I think the hotels are evaluating this business more closely and saying, 'Listen, we have to look at our budgets, and this may not be a good piece of business for us.'"

Not everyone agrees. Bonnie Weiss, director of global pharmaceutical sales for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, says, "sometimes it may not be the best fit for the individual hotel, but pharmaceutical meetings are a wonderful part of the business and we welcome it. The individual piece of business has to make sense for the hotel and the hotel has to fit with the group, but I've never heard anyone saying they don't want pharmaceutical business."

That's what Bristol-Myers Squibb's Donovan sees on the other side of the negotiation. "The hotels want our business. We've heard from the hotels that our business is very valuable to them. They are willing to work with us on our food-and-beverage maximums so that they can continue to have the pharmaceutical meetings in their hotels."

The volume of meetings that pharmaceutical companies book is one reason, Donovan adds. "We do quarterly reviews with the hotels that we have contracts with," she says. "We have global agreements with them. We look at volume year-over-year. We look at what large meetings and small meetings they possibly may have won or lost and the reasons why."


Feeding Causes Difficulties
The biggest hurdle medical meeting planners face is the food-and-beverage maximums that each pharmaceutical firm has determined meets the Open Payments rules' vague standards on what is a "reasonable" cap on meal prices. Then add in the fact that many other countries' versions of Open Payments do set hard price caps -- often very low by U.S. standards -- and you've got a recipe for confusion and some awkward situations.

The alternative can be worse, Schaumann says, noting that she's seen dinners hosted by major pharmaceutical companies featuring a $175 plated dinner, topped off with wine. "And over here, on the side, is a table with a tent card that says 'Poland' or 'Italy' and they'll get a sandwich," she says. "It's just ridiculous."

Giving the example of a meeting on which the meal cap for U.S. doctors is $125, but the German attendees are maxed at $60 by law, Rowe says, "My advice is just take the lowest common denominator, put everyone on Germany's limitations, so that the experience is the same, the quality is the same." She adds, "It does makes it very, very difficult."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.