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The Dose

Welcome to The Dose, which tackles the business and economics inside the turbulent world of health care and life sciences in Indiana. Your host is John Russell. To contact me call 317-472-5383.

Terrorism, economy beat out ACA as election issues

January 29, 2016

Turn on the evening news and watch presidential candidates praise or condemn the Affordable Care Act, and you might think it’s an issue that might turn the election this fall.

It has generated so much discussion, pro and con, that you might think it’s at the top of the list of what matters to voters.

But is it? A new poll finds that the ACA ranks a modest No. 8 among issues voters consider important this year. That’s after terrorism, the economy, the budget deficit, gun control and a few other big issues that traditionally decide elections.

Only 4 percent of people surveyed said the ACA was the most important election issue to them, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

In fact, no single health care issue stands out for voters, the survey found. When asked about health care issues, people were all over the map.

Here's how various health care issues ranked (in parentheses is the percentage of people surveyed who said a particular issue might be very important):

—Cost of health care, health insurance and prescription drugs (64 percent).
—Medicare (61 percent).
—The future of the Affordable Care Act (57 percent).
—The future of Medicaid (55 percent).
—Creating a single-payer insurance plan (54 percent).
—Providing health coverage for the uninsured (49 percent).
—Reproductive health care services (47 percent).
—Abortion (45 percent).

So why all the talk on TV, in presidential debates, in Congress, and in the daily paper? For some, apparently it’s mighty important, right at the top of the list. But apparently not to the masses.

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LET’S NOT MAKE A DEAL

We tuned into Eli Lilly’s investor conference call on Thursday to hear what management was thinking about the frenzy on mergers and acquisitions sweeping through the industry in recent months.

Specifically, we wanted to know if CEO John Lechleiter had softened his view and would join the party.

What party? Well, think of Pfizer buying Allergan ($160 billion), Shire acquiring Baxalta ($32 billion), Valeant teaming up with Salix ($13 billion), and Mylan’s failed hostile takeover of Perrigo ($26 billion).

It’s been a wheeling, dealing kind of year for Big Pharma.

But Lechleiter has never shown much interest in throwing huge bucks around. Even his biggest deals have pretty modest by industry standards Think of Lilly’s $6.5 billion acquisition of cancer biotech firm ImClone Systems in 2008, or its $5.4 billion acquisition of Novartis AG’s animal health business last year.

That’s about as big as it gets.

But you knew the question would come up. And it did.

Christopher Schott, an analyst with JPMorgan Securities, asked Lechleiter whether the stock market volatility, which has pushed down the down the value of some companies, would “create opportunities for Lilly to get more aggressive and look at some assets.” He asked for Lechleiter’s “updated thoughts on the M&A landscape.”

The CEO who hates big deals was happy to oblige. The market volatility hasn’t changed much on that score, he said.

“We continue to look for small to midsized opportunities that complement the therapeutic areas that we’re already in that we know so well, so I don’t think that has changed” Lechleiter said. “We’re certainly not interested in any large-scale M&A.”

So, looking for a big deal in pharma? Look somewhere else.

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