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Pharma Industry Dodges Threats In Health Care Bill

Date : 03/21/2010 @ 11:20PM
Source : Dow Jones News

Pharma Industry Dodges Threats In Health Care Bill

The health care package passed on Sunday contains few provisions that are poisonous to the pharmaceutical industry, though drug makers may have to pony up several billion dollars more than previously expected.

Absent from the legislation are provisions that would allow American consumers to buy re-imported drugs from abroad and let the federal government negotiate drug prices, two controversial issues that the industry has said would devastate their balance sheets.

The approval of the bill is likely to be applauded by Wall Street and could benefit the stocks of drug makers in the short-term.

"I was unable to find anything in there that would cause me to have anxiety if I were a shareholder in a pharmaceutical company," said Ira Loss, a senior health-care analyst at the research firm Washington Analysis.

The legislation, which still has to be signed by President Barack Obama, also gives drug makers 12 years of protection, or exclusivity, to sell biologic medicines before facing the threat of cheaper, off-brand alternatives.

Billy Tauzin, who led the industry's negotiations on health care with lawmakers, said overall drug makers fare well. "While we're not totally happy," Tauzin began, "we generally feel like it tracks with out principles."

Sanofi-Aventis SA (SNY) Chief Executive Christopher Viehbacher said in an interview that the impact of the legislation will be neutral to slightly negative "but better for the industry than if healthcare reform didn't pass."

Tauzin, head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA, and Viehbacher said getting protection for brand-name biologics is among the important provisions for the industry. Drug makers pushed hard to get 12 years of exclusive market protection while the White House and some lawmakers wanted to lower the protection to seven years.

Tauzin acknowledged, however, that drug makers will take a "severe hit" in the form of fees on their profits and rebates they'll have to pay the government. Tauzin is the outgoing president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the main lobby for the drug industry.

Such fees total about $80 billion under the bill passed Sunday and would be divided among drug makers.

Still, many analysts say drug makers will end up recouping those costs through new customers: The bill would provide insurance coverage to an additional 32 million Americans.

"Chalk up another good round for Pharma and Biotech in health care reform," began a note to clients Friday from Concept Capital, a research firm.

Ken Tsuboi, co-manager of the Allianz RCM Wellness Fund, sees the impact of bill, and its $90 billion in concessions over 10 years, as relatively minor in an industry that has annual global sales of about $750 billion, with about $300 billion in the U.S., and margins close to 30%.

"I think that it is actually a pretty good deal for Pharma," Tsuboi said.

The stocks of large pharmaceutical companies generally have trailed the overall market over the past year. That likely reflects the projected impact of losing patent protection on several key drugs in coming years, more so than any concerns related to the health bill.

Tauzin said the industry is concerned that a federal advisory board created by the legislation would end up limiting patient choices. He added, however, that it's too early to tell exactly how the board would operate.

Another plus for drug makers is a proposal to close the so-called Medicare "donut hole"--the gap in coverage that forces seniors to pay out of pocket for drugs after a certain threshold is reached. Closing this gap is an industry priority; it will likely increase sales for drug companies because people frequently stop taking their medication or switch to generics once they have to pay for them out of pocket.

Miller Tabak analyst Les Funtleyder took a sanguine view of the bill's impact on drug makers.

"When you dig into it, the fact remains that more people are going to get covered and there doesn't seem to be regulation in costs," Funtleyder said. "If you have more people and limited cost control, that is good for the sector."

-By Jared A. Favole, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9207; jared.favole@dowjones.com

(Peter Loftus and Thomas Gryta contributed to this report)

 
 


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