Health News This Week: June 20, 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.
The FTC grows a spine.
I could not be more pleased with the tone coming from the Federal Trade Commission lately, under direction of Lina Khan who was confirmed about this time last year. A press release last week used the words "rebate," "illegal," and "bribes" all in the same sentence (the headline no less), which gives you an idea of their stance on the PBM industry. I highly encourage you to check out the excellent content on this topic at Matt Stoller's substack BIG,
including this gem released a few days ago.
Change is desperately needed at the FTC, a bureaucracy that in my opinion has done nothing to prevent us from slipping into an era of megacorporate oligopolies over the last 30 years. I'm serious. Early 20th century business conjures up images of fat-cat corporate tycoon monopolies like Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel amidst a backdrop of gangsters and prohibition. In a few decades we'll look back at the early 21st century and wonder how in the hell we allowed health insurance, tech, and pharma to get so big (how indeed, considering we have laws to prevent this sort of thing that didn't exist then). Our cultural backdrop isn't nearly as cool unfortunately. Let's face it, we'll be talking about Trumpian Pandemic Wokeness and seeing the face of Zuckerbot for centuries.
Khan seems ready and willing to take on the enormous challenge of culture change, and she's pissing off all the right people along the way (a very good sign). Khan has been in place for a year, but hasn't advanced a lot of her agenda as the 4-person commission was deadlocked 2-2 until the confirmation of Alvaro Bedoya last month.
Walmart understands supply and demand
In a shrewd move, top brass at the sole member of the Fortune 1 have determined the nationwide pharmacy technician shortage can be alleviated by paying them more. At first, I thought they hadn't actually done anything because starting pay is unchanged. But the more I think about this, I like what's happening...Walmart is giving raises to EXISTING employees and implementing a more aggressive scale with more frequent pay raises. More than 36,000 pharm techs will get a raise according to a company blog post. Being a retail pharmacy tech is hard. It's really hard. I think it's going to take even more to attract the right talent and keep them, but this is a start and I hope others go this direction too. Longer term, pharmacies need to be able to actually afford more help at higher wages, something the big PBMs make very difficult to do. But as you can tell from the commentary on the FTC above, I'm bullish on this concept in the long run. Change is brewing.
COVID-19 vaccine EUA broadened
The vaccine is now recommended for children as young as 6 months old. Lots of news coverage on this one as you would expect. I really don't want to wade into a conversation about vaccines, but people have questions, and the message is not resonating with a lot of them based on vaccination rates. The CDC has plenty of content on their website to answer these questions. Increasing attention to the number of wasted doses, and a fairly cynical view of big pharma vaccine profits are among the topics in the news. A variety of factors is surely driving hesitancy in parents, and it seem to be spilling over into other vaccines too.
Monkeypox remains in the news
Why does it feel like the media is just chomping at the bit to talk about this? Seems to be plenty of headlines about spread, but not too much background info or history, which is entirely underwhelming. I'm hoping the novelty wears off soon, collectively we have enough anxiety about pandemics right now. Here's a pretty good article in Forbes that covers the basics on the worldwide 2,103 cases so far this year. Look, this is new, weird and definitely real. It deserves the attention of the scientific community. But let's keep it in perspective, odd diseases have occasionally popped up around the world and usually go away with little fanfare. I also hope we're worried about the right stuff in regard to Monkeypox...oops, too late...apparently 30+ scientists had nothing better to do.