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Pfizer sees Covid-19 as ‘durable’ revenue stream as profits rise – ET HealthWorld



Pfizer sees Covid-19 as ‘durable’ revenue stream as profits rise – ET HealthWorld

Pfizer sees Covid-19 as 'durable' revenue stream as profits risePfizer sharply increased its 2021 profit projections on Tuesday, citing much higher Covid-19 vaccine sales which are on track to provide a “durable” revenue stream in the wake of the pandemic.

The drugmaker reported a jump in first-quarter profits based on surging revenues, with nearly one-fourth of sales coming from Covid-19 vaccines.

With German partner BioNTech, the pharma giant is ramping up vaccine production and now estimates 2021 revenues of $26 billion from the vaccine, up from the $15 billion projected in February.

But the surging profits have drawn criticism as governments face pressure to step in to ensure vaccines are provided to underserved countries.

Pfizer, which says it is on the cusp of winning US approval for individuals 12 to 15 years old to receive its vaccine, is holding talks with “basically all governments of the world” about providing booster shots through 2024, Chief Executive Albert Bourla told analysts on a conference call Tuesday.

The company is studying the efficacy of giving the jabs six or more months after the second vaccine dose, and developing doses that could be stored at standard refrigerated temperature for up to 10 weeks.

Bourla expects “durable demand” for Covid-19 vaccines, similar to that of the flu vaccine.

“It is our hope that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will continue to have a global impact by helping to get the devastating pandemic under control and helping economies around the world not only open, but stay open,” Bourla said in prepared remarks.

That would create “a scenario in which Pfizer can continue to be both a leader and a beneficiary,” he said.

Pfizer has won wide praise for its technological prowess in developing a game-changing vaccine in record time. However, critics called the profits troubling given the divide in vaccine availability between rich and poor countries.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month decried a “shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines” and called for efforts to fortify the WHO’s Covax programs, which aims to ensure that poorer nations can access the shots.

India and South Africa are leading an effort in the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property and patent rules, at least temporarily, which would open the door to broader production of vaccines at a time when the virus is causing mass misery in India and some other countries.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he had not made a decision on whether to support a vaccine waiver, but that the United States was moving “as quickly as we can” to export doses.

Biden also said he was ready to “immediately” begin vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds as soon as Pfizer’s Covid shot is approved by regulators for the age group.

– Additional supply – Pfizer reported net income of $4.9 billion, up 45 percent from the same period of the prior year.

Revenues also jumped 45 percent to $14.6 billion, including $3.5 billion in Covid-19 vaccine sales.

The results include the lift from Covid-19 vaccines, which generated profit margins of “high-20s,” implying around $900 million in profits in the most recent quarter.

As of May 3, Pfizer and BioNTech have shipped about 430 million doses of the vaccine to 91 countries around the world.

The company has reached an agreement to provide up to 40 million doses for Covax, a globally-pooled coronavirus vaccine procurement effort aimed at providing vaccines to low- and middle-income economies.

However, the company on Tuesday pointed to a series of deals to expand offerings in richer countries, including the United States, the European Union, Canada and Israel.

– Criticism of profits – Pfizer has defended its approach to vaccine pricing, saying it has moderated pricing through a “pandemic phase” that could last into 2022 at levels “to encourage broad access.”

The company said it is charging $19.50 per vaccine dose in the United States, but has not disclosed its US profit margin.

Zain Rizvi, a law and policy researcher at progressive Public Citizen advocacy group, said Pfizer’s rising profits showed the need for governments to take action to save lives.

“Pfizer is cashing in on the crisis and hoarding technology, even as billions of people around the world go without a vaccine,” Rizvi said in an email to AFP.

“Pfizer’s profiteering shows the urgent need for governments to step-in. Governments should require Pfizer to share technology with manufacturers around the world to help ramp up global production.”

The company is building more capacity and expects to manufacture at least three billion doses in 2022, up from 2.5 billion now expected in 2021. In February, Pfizer said it expected to produce up to two billion doses in 2021.

Pfizer shares rose 0.3 percent to $39.95.

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Do Prescription Sleep Medicines Even Work?



Do Prescription Sleep Medicines Even Work?

By Serena McNiff
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) — An estimated 9 million Americans turn to prescription pills when they can’t sleep, but a new study of middle-aged women finds taking the drugs for a year or longer may do little good.

Comparing a group of about 200 women who were medicated for sleep problems with over 400 women who had sleeping problems but did not take medication, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that sleep meds don’t seem to be beneficial for long-term use. After one or two years on sleep medications, the women in the medicated group did not sleep any better or longer than those who weren’t medicated.

“The simple conclusion is that long-term use of sleep medications does not have a clear benefit with respect to chronic sleep problems,” said study author Dr. Daniel Solomon, a rheumatologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s.

Although Solomon typically does not focus on issues related to sleep, he was inspired by years of seeing patients who struggle with insomnia. “Usually, I might give a patient a week of medicine for sleep, and sometimes they end up coming back with long-term use, and they’re still complaining of sleep issues,” he noted.


The findings stemmed from a U.S. National Institutes of Health database that has followed thousands of women to look at how middle age and menopause affect their mental and physical health.

Menopause, when women stop producing certain female hormones and cease to have a monthly period, is well known for causing sleeplessness. Many women experience sleep problems during the years leading up to menopause and into menopause itself.

Solomon’s research team identified women in this database who reported sleep problems, such as waking up too early and difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

“All the women in our study had reported sleep disturbances. Some of them started a medicine and some did not, and then we followed them longitudinally one year later and two years later,” Solomon said. “We asked them about their regular medication use at each annual visit, and we also asked them about sleep disturbances using a well-described sleep disturbance scale.”


Since the study primarily consists of yearly check-ins with the participants, it can only show how these medications worked over the long term. However, clinical trials support that for a short time, these drugs do help people sleep.


“There are good, randomized controlled trials that say that sleep medications help over a few weeks or months,” Solomon said. “But, it turns out that about 35% to 40% of people who start on them are using them a year later. So the typical way that they’re used – i.e., chronic – hasn’t been well studied in trials.”

The new report was published online May 11 in the journal BMJ Open.

Commonly prescribed sleep drugs include benzodiazepines and “Z-drugs” such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), some of which are intended to promote sleepiness while others are primarily used to calm anxiety.

These medicines are thought to work by altering levels of brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that keep you alert during the day and relaxed at night, said Dr. Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, a sleep medicine specialist and a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s board of directors.

Like most drugs, sleep medications are not without risks. According to Solomon, the most commonly cited concerns are daytime sleepiness and balance issues or falling, particularly when a medicated person gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Dependence is an issue, as people can become reliant on their sleeping pills. There may also be a link between sleep medications and memory problems later in life.


“If you’re going to use sleep meds, you really have to think about them as short-term or very intermittent meds,” Solomon said. “Use them for a week, or a couple of nights here and there. But once you start to use them long-term, it’s not as if they’re curative for your sleep problems.”

While Solomon is not a sleep expert, he said his colleagues in the field recommend “improving sleep hygiene” to remedy ongoing sleep problems.

“It’s about making sure you’re tired when you go to sleep, you’ve restricted your caffeine use during the day, and you’ve restricted use of screens within your bedtime,” Solomon said. “Occasional use of sleep medicines or supplements can be useful, but they should not become a chronic treatment for your sleep problems.”


When changing sleep habits isn’t enough, Abbasi-Feinberg said cognitive behavioral therapy is a potentially effective option for people with insomnia.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia helps us reframe our sleep issues,” Abbasi-Feinberg said. “It addresses all the thoughts and the behaviors that keep you from sleeping well. It helps you learn new strategies to sleep better, and it can also help with stress reduction, relaxation, schedule management.”


Abbasi-Feinberg said that she approaches treating sleep problems like a mystery. “You have to solve the problem and see what’s going on with each person and then make a decision for the long term,” she said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips for better sleep.

SOURCES: Daniel Solomon, MD, chief, section of clinical sciences, division of rheumatology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston; Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, MD, member, board of directors, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep medicine specialist, Millennium Physician Group, Fort Myers, Fla.; BMJ Open, May 11, 2021, online

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How insurers’ race to digitize has changed the role of CIO



How insurers’ race to digitize has changed the role of CIO

Last February, Lisa Davis started her new job as chief information officer of Blue Shield of California, entering the healthcare industry for the first time with a new set of responsibilities and a charge to transform the Oakland-based insurer’s previous operating model. A month later, COVID-19 hit.

“Who knew that when I took the job on February 24, 2020, that we would be entering into this global pandemic?” Davis said.

Davis considers herself fortunate. Blue Shield of California had already laid out its digital transformation strategy. Insurers’ tight focus on crisis planning helped the industry adapt well during COVID. But even the most prepared underwent transformation.

A recent survey of 1,300 insurance CEOs by KPMG International found that 85% of respondents said the pandemic turbocharged the digitization of their operations. Nearly 80% said it brought new urgency to create new business models and revenue streams.

“It really brought to the forefront the critical need for transformation in the healthcare space, in order to drive better health outcomes and better experiences for our members,” Davis said.

Before COVID-19, many health insurers’ CIOs focused on keeping the lights on, overseeing back-office functions and often sat separate from the rest of the organization. The pandemic has given these leaders proximity to the CEO because technology is key to powering insurers’ present and future operations and that requires collaborating more closely with the business operations than ever before.

It has forever changed the role CIOs play at insurers and, in doing so, has altered the broader healthcare system for patients and providers, said Terry Rowinski, president of Health Payment Systems, a provider of insurance for self-funded systems.

“It’s evolved the CIO from the traditional insurance industry roles of the past, to be more of a CIO of almost an e-commerce services company,” Rowinksi said. “This really brought the product and the IT teams together and, even though it was maybe very hair pulling and stressful, it probably created some of the most harmonious moments between these non-harmonious functions within organizations to get things out the door that actually serve the consumer community.”

Iterative development results in lower costs at Blue Shield CA

Last year, Blue Shield of California started its switch from a traditional waterfall development style—where developers focus on one project at a time, with a set timeline—to an agile methodology, where tech staffers partner with the business side of the house to create incremental, iterative improvements based on market feedback. Davis was brought in to help facilitate this move, as well as develop a new cloud computing, security and data analytics strategy for the insurer.

The change came at the right time, Davis said—the pandemic forced Blue Shield of California to immediately rethink how it connected with its approximately 4 million members and view itself as a tech company, rather than a traditional insurer.

“(IT) started looking at opportunities or issues or problems that the business may be having,” Davis said. “‘Where can we better automate? Where can we move things digital? What is the product we’re bringing to market for our members?’ Those conversations, and that engagement through this new portfolio model, has completely changed the business.”

The company reorganized itself around its seven business lines and horizontal functions, creating individual teams devoted to its Medicaid business, commercial offerings, customer services and more. Each team, known as portfolios, is made up of IT personnel, customer-facing associates and works directly with the company’s data and analytics group.

But making this change happen required acknowledging the tension that traditionally existed between the two company units, which had previously operated in silos. Tech can often be accused of not working fast or cheap enough, while business teams have failed to ask what IT thinks of new initiatives. Building relationships between the two units required executive buy-in to the digital strategy, Davis said.

“A lot of times you hear folks say we don’t speak the same language,” she said. “It’s just not IT-led, and only an IT issue. It really needs to be viewed and communicated and led, from the entire executive leadership team, as IT and business and transforming the company as a whole.”

Although the switch to a new work style is ongoing, Davis said the insurer has already realized results from the move—Blue Shield of California was able to integrate CVS’s pharmacy vendor operations into its organization three months ahead of schedule. This translated into new member savings, she said. She believes every insurer should adopt an agile mindset and embrace iterative development.

“We all should be thinking as a technology company, and a data company, and technology and data need to be at the core of how we think and execute as a company,” Davis said. “If you’re not, you will likely be disrupted, or you will likely go out of business.”

A data-driven approach helped Anthem respond to COVID-19

Anthem’s digital transformation started about three years ago, when the company’s CEO Gail Boudreaux came onboard. Boudreaux charged the organization with using technology to enable its business functions, and using data to streamline the insurance experience for its 43.5 million customers.

As part of the change, all Anthem associates received a primer on the meaning of terms like “digital-first,” and completed a professional development course on how technologies like AI operate. The emphasis on data also led the Indianapolis-based insurer to instate a chief digital officer rather than a CIO, said CDO Rajeev Ronanki.

At Anthem, Ronanki’s job is creating the strategy, partnerships and developing the newer technologies used at the insurer and integrating them into the existing suite of technology products. Ronanki said he reports to the office of digital transformation within Anthem, which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in 14 states.

“It’s really signaling to our team the way in which we communicate the role of technology at Anthem, which is to say that it’s more a synchronous part of the business strategy,” Ronanki said. “Whereas contrast that with, let’s say, the traditional way, in which it is a bridge to them.”

The evolution of Anthem’s Sydney Health member engagement app illustrates the insurer’s digital-first shift. Launched in 2019, Sydney was initially developed with the business side of the house establishing the requirements to the IT teams that developed the actual app.

“What that resulted in was this kind of guesswork on what our consumers actually needed,” Ronanki said.

Now, the insurer tracks what consumers like and dislike about Sydney Health’s experience through hundreds of A/B tests, gathering data on which customer segments seem most engaged with the app, what features drive the highest member satisfaction and what’s driving drop-off rates. Anthem associates then compare the results to figure out what changes need to be made and develop new features from there.

“It’s purely data-driven, and that’s led to us introducing new things on a weekly, monthly basis, whereas before we were on, let’s say, once a year, twice a year, kind of cycles,” Ronanki said.

A change in development style allows Anthem to respond more quickly to consumer needs. It has also led to a culture shift in the organization. Relying on data to help chart product development and investments has led Ronanki to feel much more comfortable admitting when certain projects don’t turn out the way he expected. When the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world in flux, he credited Anthem’s flexible company culture—and technology investments—for helping quickly shift its 80,000 U.S. associates to working remotely.

“It requires a whole different culture around patient learning, and learning from failure and, in fact, applauding failure, because failing quickly is much more effective than having a long product that has middling success,” Ronanki said.

Digital differentiates health plans at integrated delivery networks

Along with the pandemic, a broader industry push toward value-based and consumer-centered care has also continued to raise the CIO role at health plans, particularly those that are part of integrated delivery networks.

“It’s become a much bigger role,” said Zachary Durst, a senior associate at executive search firm WittKieffer, of CIOs. They have continued to “elevate” in the C-suite and are increasingly reporting directly to the CIO. “The CIO today really requires someone that has that strategic perspective,” he said, and who can bring new ideas for how to use data and technology.

From a member’s perspective, consumer-facing digital tools are often what “differentiates” a health plan from its competitors, according to Durst.

Members expect it to be easy to ask questions, pay bills and manage care.

That’s one of the reasons why UPMC Health Plan, the health plan arm of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has been building out mobile app capabilities, including an app called RxWell that’s designed to help members manage anxiety, depression and stress, said Scott Haas, vice president of payer applications at UPMC Health Plan.

There’s way more on a CIO’s plate today than five years ago, with a proliferation of digital engagement tools and new expectations for managing member data, such as those stemming from recent data-sharing regulations from CMS, Haas said. While Haas’ official internal title is vice president of payer applications, his role also involves serving as the health plan arm’s CIO.

He reports to UPMC’s senior vice president and CIO at the corporate level, although he also works closely with UPMC Health Plan’s president and CEO.

Haas has spent the past 13 years at UPMC Health Plan, before which he worked at health insurance company Health Care Service Corp.

“The demands of the digital world continue to accelerate,” he said.

The need for health insurers to focus on digital engagement will only increase as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

“A lot of the members and consumers have now gotten used to—and are really looking for—ways to utilize easy, convenient and intuitive healthcare solutions,” Haas said, noting roughly 100,000 new members enrolled into UPMC Health Plan’s telehealth program amid the pandemic.

At Kaiser Permanente, a growing focus on technology strategy and digital experience led the Oakland, Calif-based integrated delivery network to give Diane Comer, who was named the top technology executive for Kaiser’s hospitals and health plans last month, the title “chief information technology officer.” She replaces Dick Daniels, who retired from his role as Kaiser’s CIO in June.

Comer reports to Kaiser’s chair and CEO Greg Adams, and will be responsible for developing the organization’s overall technology strategy and digital transformation work, as well as implementing and overseeing technologies like a traditional CIO, she said.

“We will continue to see a shift, similar to Kaiser Permanente, in more CIOs at health systems and health insurers focusing on the overall technology strategy and digital transformation efforts within their organization, in order to expand and improve the digital experience for their customers and patients,” Comer wrote in an email to Modern Healthcare.

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Error 500



Error 500

photo of father and son at dinner table

A new study looks at “pre-loss grief” for people whose family members had advanced cancer or dementia.

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