Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Knock On Wood'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Knock On Wood'" by John Deering from "Strange Brew".

Here's today's health policy haiku:

PFIZER HITS A HOT BUTTON

Drugmakers’ merger
Raises tax and price concerns,
Plus Dems’ and Trump’s ire.

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Marketplace

5. After Merger To Create 'Drug Behemoth,' Pfizer Already Considering Splitting New Company

The Wall Street Journal reports that Pfizer officials have considered splits before but now may be ready to do it. Also, the announcement of the megamerger with Allergan has set off concerns about competition in the health care industry, high drug prices and U.S. tax policy.

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer Weighs Splitting Up New Drug Behemoth
The $155 billion agreement to combine Pfizer Inc. with Allergan PLC would create a drug behemoth so big that Pfizer is already thinking of breaking it up. The deal, which was announced Monday, brings together a diverse stable of drugs, from Pfizer’s cancer medicines and vaccines, to Allergan’s skin-care treatments and eye drugs. The companies expect to achieve $2 billion in cost savings as well as significant tax benefits from the deal .... Pfizer executives have for years considered splitting the company, but they have been deterred by concerns that its businesses may not be large enough to stand alone. Now, with Allergan, the company would have strength in both high-cost, high-growth drugs as well as generic, lower-cost drugs to make such a split. (Rockoff, 11/23)

The New York Times: Pfizer Chief Defends Merger With Allergan As Good For U.S.
In phone calls to Washington lawmakers and Obama administration officials, the chief executive of the largest drug maker in the nation had a surprising message: A deal that would allow the company to move its headquarters to Ireland was actually good for the United States. The Scottish-born chief executive of Pfizer, Ian C. Read, told them that a merger with Allergan, the maker of Botox that is based in Dublin, would significantly cut Pfizer’s tax bill and give it more cash that it could invest in the United States and ultimately add jobs, according to people briefed on the calls. He made the calls in recent days as the two companies were hammering out a $152 billion deal. (de la Merced, Gelles and Picker, 11/23)

The Associated Press: $160B Deal To Combine Pfizer And Allergan Raises Outcry
A $160 billion deal announced Monday to merge Pfizer and Allergan and create the world's biggest drug company renewed the outcry in Washington over "inversions," in which U.S. corporations combine with companies overseas to lower their tax bill. The combination — the second-largest merger in history — could have ramifications around the globe, pushing up drug prices and spurring more such deals in the fast-consolidating health care sector and other fields. It is also increasing the election-year backlash from U.S. politicians who have been blasting drugmakers recently over medicine prices that can exceed $100,000 a year. (Johnson and Murphy, 11/23)

The Washington Post: Pfizer’s Tax-Avoiding Megamerger With Allergan Sparks Outcry
A $160 billion megamerger announced Monday would turn U.S. pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer Inc. into an Irish drug company, using a controversial tactic that allows companies to dodge billions of dollars in corporate taxes by renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Pfizer’s deal with Botox-maker Allergan, which would create the world’s largest drugmaker, immediately sparked criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Congress who agree that such deals are problematic but have so far not taken legislative action against them. (Johnson and Merle, 11/23)

The New York Times: Drug Merger Reignites Tax Reform Discussion
For almost four years, Congress and the White House have done little to make their long-promised overhaul of the corporate tax code a reality. Now the blockbuster pharmaceutical merger of Pfizer and Allergan has put new pressure on all sides to act. (Calmes, 11/23)

Reuters: Pfizer To Buy Allergan In $160B Deal
[Allergan CEO Brent] Saunders said the combination would provide access to about 70 additional worldwide markets for Allergan products, such as Botox wrinkle treatment, Alzheimer's drug Namenda and dry-eye medication Restasis. For 166-year-old Pfizer, Allergan would be the fourth huge acquisition over the last 15 years - one for each of the last 4 CEOs - following purchases of Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia and Wyeth. This also caps a record year for healthcare mergers and acquisitions, taking their cumulative value in 2015 to more than $600 billion. (Pierson and Berkrot, 11/24)

CNN Money: Pfizer And Allergan Combine In Biggest Drug Merger Ever
The mega deal is also the latest example of the massive wave of consolidation in health care. Drug makers, insurers, hospitals and pharmacies have raced to bulk up in recent years as the business landscape has been altered by Obamacare and an aging population. (Wattles and Long, 11/23)

6. CVS' Drug-Benefits Unit Makes Exclusive Deal To Cover Amgen's New Cholesterol Drug

The agreement, which makes Repatha the only drug in a new class of cholesterol-lowering medicines that will be covered by Caremark — the CVS pharmacy benefits manager — excludes a competing drug from Regeneron and Sanofi.

The Wall Street Journal: CVS Chooses Repatha As New Cholesterol Drug For Caremark
CVS Health Corp. said Monday that Amgen Inc.’s Repatha will be the only drug of a new class of cholesterol-lowering injections in its Caremark pharmacy-benefits manager. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Repatha and rival drug Praluent, developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi SA, as a new way to treat high cholesterol. The new class of drugs, which are known as PCSK9 inhibitors, has drawn attention for their potential to combat heart disease but also for their potential high costs to the health care system. Repatha costs about $14,100 a year and Praluent costs about $14,600. (Hufford, 11/23)

Bloomberg: CVS Makes Exclusive Deal To Cover Amgen’s Cholesterol Drug
CVS Health Corp.’s drug-benefits unit will cover Amgen Inc.’s new cholesterol-cutting injections while excluding a competing treatment from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., pushing for savings from medications that list for more than $14,000 a year. ... While the discount CVS obtained from Amgen was “substantial,” [CVS chief medical officer Troyen] Brennan said he would not reveal the amount or the length of the contract with Amgen. CVS will continue to require that prescriptions for Amgen’s drug be approved in advance, a practice known as prior authorization that can limit use of the medicine. (Langreth, 11/23)

Reuters: CVS Chooses Amgen's New Cholesterol Drug Over Competitor
Praluent costs $14,600 for a year of treatment and Amgen set an annual price of $14,100 for its Repatha. The companies were expected to offer rebates and discounts that would bring down the cost to the mid-$12,000 range. In comparison, the annual cost of generic statins, which are used by millions of Americans who have high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is in the hundreds of dollars. ... The decision contrasts with that of Express Scripts Holdings Corp, the largest U.S. drug benefit manager, which signed deals to provide coverage for both drugs (Humer, 11/23)

Meanwhile, STAT offers two reports on trends within the pharmaceutical industry, including one that may lead to insurers and drug makers joining forces -

STAT: At Walgreens And CVS, A Push To Collect Customer Health Data By Dangling Discounts
Want $50 off your next purchase at Walgreens? You’ll have to run 2,000 miles. Or step on a scale 2,000 times. Or take 2,000 readings of your blood glucose level. And you’ll have to let the global pharmacy chain track all that data — and give them permission to mine it to target you with ads. ... Pharmacies across the US are dangling perks to coax their customers to relinquish all sorts of personal information, ranging from daily fluctuations in their weight to their progress in quitting smoking to their real-time location every minute of the day. (Robbins, 11/23)

STAT: Drug Makers And Insurers, Longtime Rivals, Eye An Alliance On Prices
With rising drug prices such a hot topic here, drug makers and health insurers are both coming under heavy fire. So much fire that they’re considering a radical response: working together. After years of relentlessly attacking one another, leaders of the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance lobby are considering — warily — cooperating to shape any federal legislation that emerges from the public outrage at the high cost of medications. (Scott, 11/24)

Campaign 2016

7. Financing For Sanders' Plan To Expand Medicare To All Is Not Yet Clear

USA Today examines the Democratic presidential candidate's tax proposals. Also, the announcement of a blockbuster merger involving a U.S. and Irish firm drew comments from some candidates.

USA Today: Tax Impact Of Sanders' Proposals Still Up For Debate
Sen. Bernie Sanders says if he's elected president, he'll expect the wealthiest Americans to start paying their “fair share” of taxes. Exactly what that means is still largely unknown. So far, the Vermont independent has proposed raising nearly $6 trillion in revenue from corporations, Wall Street speculators and the wealthy to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, provide free college tuition, expand Social Security and finance other programs. But Sanders still hasn't provided details of his two most ambitious proposals— Medicare-style health care for everyone, and universal child care — or said how much he would raise income tax rates to pay for them. (Gaudiano, 11/23)

Politico: Drug Merger Unleashes Dem Fury — And More Calls For Tax Reform
Pfizer’s blockbuster $160 billion merger with Irish pharmaceutical maker Allergan is stoking the partisan debate on corporations that move their headquarters overseas to lessen their U.S. tax bills — with Democrats like Hillary Clinton quickly condemning the deal while Republicans called it a symptom of a broken tax code. The deal "will leave U.S. taxpayers holding the bag," Clinton said in a statement Monday, calling on Congress to limit corporations’ ability to use the tax-limiting maneuver known as an inversion. (O'Donnell, 11/23)

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