PhRMA President and CEO Steve Ubl recently joined the Medium blogging website and penned his first post, "Health Care Veteran Gaines New Perspective." The post goes through the struggles his family experienced with chronic disease, and how they have shaped his approach to his role at PhRMA. This post is expected to be the first of many where he will dive into topics such as: PhRMA's policy solutions to deliver innovative treatments to patients, promise in the pipeline, and the biopharmaceutical industry's economic footprint, among many other issues.
Ubl opens his inaugural post by opening up about a phone call he received from his wife, a phone call that followed a presentation and was eerily similar to the content provided in the presentation.
Mere minutes after presenting that video [about a mom struggling with caring for a toddler with type 1 diabetes], my wife called to tell me our son, Chris, who had been suffering from fatigue, weight loss and unusual thirst, had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The moment bordered on surreal.
Ubl goes on to explain that he felt that he knew what patients went through every day: interacting with doctors, nurses, insurance companies, and the various other parts of the health care system. This experience made him realize "I really didn't have a clue about what it's like to care for someone with a chronic medical condition."
While Ubl notes that insulin has come a long way and that researchers continue to innovate and deliver more stable forms of insulin, "that's not the exciting part." He states that what he is "most passionate about" is what is coming. He notes that "America is on the cusp of a golden era of medical innovation" and that we "have the building blocks to revolutionize the treatment of costly and debilitating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's disease."
Importantly, Ubl does not make this post entirely about him, or entirely about the past and the progress that PhRMA has made in being able to help patients. He places an emphasis on what needs to happen in the future, to ensure that the aforementioned "golden era" can become a reality. He states,
We need policies that make the patient a priority, improve how our health care system works and make it affordable. That's why my organization recently introduced new recommendations and solutions to ensure our policy environment continues to support delivering these innovative treatments to patients like my son.
One such suggestion is to modernize the process. Ubl recognizes that it "takes too long and costs too much to develop a medicine, test it and get it to patients." He believes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be "empowered to use the latest technologies and methods, such as biomarkers, real world evidence and patient-reported outcomes." Such a process would "speed the delivery of innovative treatments to patients, enhance competition and keep costs down."
Ubl also believes that communication with payers would help to get more value out of health care. He notes that the prohibition of discussions between insurance companies and biopharmaceutical companies about medicines that are on the horizon gets in the way: it "doesn't give insurers the opportunity to plan their budgets, causing uncertainty about insurance premiums and other planning tools." If those barriers were removed, "efficiency and affordability" would be promoted, and it would help to ensure that "the right drug is getting to the right patient at the right time."
Along with many other health care professionals, Ubl does believe that a "well-informed consumer is an engaged and empowered patient." He believes that the information that should be made available to patients isn't so much the information provided in the so-called transparency effort by the Sunshine Act, but instead, in making the following types of information accessible to patients: is the physician or hospital they visit in network? Is the medicine they need covered, or are all medicines for their disease placed out of reach by the health plan?
Lastly, Ubl noted that market distortions need to be addressed, that "the U.S. health care system is largely market-based and has worked well over time, but more can be done to help it work even better." Items to be addressed here include the 340B program and risk adjustment programs. He believes that "helping the market work at its best can help preserve the safety net and improve affordable access to medicines for patients."
While showing such a raw side of himself, Ubl put a personal face on the PhRMA industry. We are hopeful that these blog posts will continue in a positive way forward: showing that the industry is there to support patients, not take advantage of them.