Health News This Week: June 13, 2022
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Just the stories I'm paying attention to. My completely subjective opinions on the healthcare news that matters. I could be wrong. Both in opinion and whether it matters.
FTC to probe PBM industry. They're calling this a 6(b) inquiry--Section 6(b) of the FTC Act authorizes them to conduct studies without a specific law enforcement purpose. At this point, it's only an information gathering exercise. Nothing will come of this unless charges are brought, and you can bet the lobbyists will be hard at work trying to make sure that doesn't happen. Criminal charges are unusual in this arena, though that may be changing. A good explanation can be found here. The PBM industry has been awfully slippery for the last couple decades, somehow pivoting with uncanny speed for a corporate goliath. Despite losing court cases and legislative battles at the state level with regularity, the industry continues to grow at an alarming rate as attempts to reign them in have been symbolic victories for their opponents at best. This could be the turning point though--the famous monopolies of the early 20th century had a similar path for about 20 years, facing increased public scrutiny and racking up state-level losses until they were finally broken up.
Oracle buys Cerner. "The combined companies will create a national health records database that pulls in data from thousands of hospitals, said Larry Ellison, Oracle board chairman." This was actually announced awhile ago, but hit the news again as the deal was finalized. Epic has been curiously quiet about the news.
COVID funding going towards school air quality per Kaiser Health News. I feel like we should be past the idea that ventilation makes one bit of difference with COVID-19. Not to say that schools shouldn't address their air quality if they have issues. There's certainly a range of benefits to reducing particulates and allergens in the air, which will be good for learning. I don't like hanging out in stinky places either, though ironically my home office is co-located in my son's bedroom. But please, the idea that an airborne disease can be significantly impacted in this way is nonsense.
The news people say the boneheads in the Senate did a thing. I really don't want to talk about gun control here. People do make the argument that it's a healthcare issue, but I think the debate is best for other forums. Despite what you've read, the Senate has not actually done anything. Not yet, probably not ever. They've struck an agreement about a framework, whatever that means. So to be clear, they have not written, voted on, passed, sent to the other chamber, or presented to the President...anything. I'll check back later to see if something actually happens.
Pharmacy relevant healthcare startups seem to be struggling. TruePill lays of 15% of their workforce. Cerebral apparently writes for a lot of Adderall. I can think of at least one other out there that isn't in the news yet, but probably will be. Look, the margins in these pharmacy-adjacent businesses just aren't very good, and I'm really wondering if VC money truly understood what they were getting into. I have to question anyone that wants in on PBM reimbursement rates right now, plus intends to deliver everything. I don't care what kind of tech you're using to make it more efficient, you can't buy drugs cheap enough to dispense maintenance meds in the traditional model, let alone deliver them. Unless you're banking on the FTC to fix the problems there (see #1 above), this just doesn't seem like a good bet. The exception may be the creatively named Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company. But the play there is avoiding the PBMs, which may be the most obvious solution of all. I'll also give credit to a couple of new-generation PBMs that have a very different take on how this industry should work. More on them in a future blog post.
Dr. Mario gets a modern refresh by adding health insurance. I really hope they didn't spend too much time on this. I won't either.