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As US drug pricing negotiations are making headlines every day, our analysis found that pharma’s reputation is suffering mainly because of media misconceptions that companies can clear out.

What we found: Our study of 1,705 English-language articles published in the last 12 months found that the drug pricing debate was heavily dominated by the US government’s historic negotiations with pharma companies to set prices for certain high-cost drugs covered by Medicare, under the Inflation Reduction Act.

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer‘s blood thinner Eliquis, Amgen‘s arthritis drug Enbrel, and diabetes medicines like Merck Co’s Januvia and Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly‘s Jardiance were among the most talked-about drugs in the discussion as they were among the first 10 selected for negotiations.
  • Merck became the most influential company as it was the first drugmaker to sue the Biden administration, arguing that the negotiation process is a “sham” and “tantamount to extortion” and constitutes an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation, thereby setting a precedent in the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to challenge the program.
  • Other pharmas, including Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, and trade groups like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), gained their media visibility as they also launched legal battles.

The big problem

Our analysis revealed that the predominant media narratives surrounding Big Pharma alleged that companies opposed cost savings for patients and taxpayers, resisted transparency and engaged in price gouging.

  • These perceptions were largely fueled by the misconception that drugs like Eliquis or Januvia were chosen for negotiations due to their manufacturers’ unfair pricing tactics.
  • This underscored the long-lasting image of Big Pharma prioritising their financial interests over the well-being of patients and the desires of the American public, who overwhelmingly support the negotiations.

How pharma can reshape the conversation

As more and more drugs are expected to be chosen for negotiations, now it’s the time for the pharma sector to reset the narrative around what price negotiations are designed to do. Here’s where it can start:

  • Address misunderstandings: PR and comms can do a better job of clarifying that drugs were selected not because they were the most expensive. Instead, they can emphasise it was because of these medicines’ widespread use and aggregate cost impact on Medicare spending.
  • Build a stronger value story: Pharma can highlight that the drugs’ selection indicates societal importance rather than an indictment of the companies’ pricing strategies. By shifting the narrative in this manner, PR and communications efforts can move away from defensive stances on pricing and profits towards showing their value to society.
  • Put drug pricing in context: Pharma can also contextualise the value of these medications within the broader health economic landscape. For instance, Illustrating how the expenditure on blood thinners like Eliquis pales in comparison to the immense costs associated with treating stroke-related complications or long-term care can highlight the cost-effectiveness of pharmaceuticals.

How Commetric can help

While pharmaceutical companies usually rely on advertising campaigns and push marketing to present their viewpoints, the complexity and nuances of drug pricing require a PR effort dedicated to building trust and conveying a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.

Here’s how we can help with that:

  • Analysing how pricing misconceptions are spread: Our media analytics solutions can help pharma companies pinpoint and address the prevailing media misconceptions that contribute to a negative reputation, such as the belief that drugs are chosen for price negotiations due to unfair pricing tactics.
  • Shifting the narrative: By leveraging Commetric’s granular media insights, pharmaceutical companies can shift the public relations narrative from a defensive stance on drug pricing to a more constructive dialogue about the value of medications, including their societal importance.
  • Strategic communication Planning: Utilising Commetric’s analytical prowess, pharma companies can develop targeted communication strategies that emphasise the role of pharmaceuticals in the healthcare system and contextualise their pricing within the larger health economic landscape.