CHC News

Sharon Callahan: The Coalition Is “Our Voice in Washington”

May 16, 2019 – In a May 15 podcast interview with Medical Marketing & Media’s (MM&M’s) Senior Editor Larry Dobrow, Sharon Callahan, CEO, TBWA\WorldHealth; chief client officer, Omnicom Health Group, spoke about her many years as a member and the former chair – and first woman chair – of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication’s executive committee, and explained the Coalition’s role in responding to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services mandate that drugs’ wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) be included in direct-to-consumer television ads.

“The Coalition is a really important organization, because it’s our voice in Washington,” said Callahan, who was recently named the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association 2019 Woman of the Year. “It’s done some really important work over the years, and I don’t think people even realize it,” she said.

Calling the CMS final rule “just so ill-advised” Callahan explained that the Coalition provided comments on the proposed version of the rule both on its own and in coordination with other stakeholders. The Coalition’s comment on CMS’ proposed rule stated that “WAC pricing is not a good benchmark and that it actually could deter people from getting much-needed care,” she said.

She noted that the WAC “is not the cost you or I pay for the drug,” and it “doesn’t take into account insurance or anything else.” Further, the final rule, released May 10 and slated to go into effect within 60 days of that date, “only applies to TV, and there are so many other ways that people get their information,” she said. “Why just single out this one channel?” Callahan stated that she is “very, very disappointed” in the CMS final rule.

However, she conceded that drug pricing is a big issue that political parties can agree on, often painting the pharma industry as a “common villain.” Although the industry has been fighting back with facts and figures, Callahan advises companies to try to take charge of the narrative by sharing the powerful stories of how their medicines change lives.

“We’re storytellers … and there are some really amazing stories out there,” she told MM&M, citing as an example the Boston-area company Sarepta Therapeutics, which is developing a promising gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. “I think they have four kids in trials right now who are leading normal lives and playing in the backyard … not enough of those stories are being told. It costs money to develop those therapies and drugs, and we don’t want anyone to stop doing it.”

To listen to the full MM&M podcast interview with Sharon Callahan,  in which she also discusses the state of the network-agency union and industry diversity, click here.