J&J plans more price transparency; eyes U.S. tax, healthcare changes

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By Bill Berkrot

<span class="articleLocation”>Johnson & Johnson’s chief executive
officer said on Tuesday that responsible drug pricing is a
priority and discussed changes he would like to see on the U.S.
tax code and healthcare policy, one day after meeting with
President Donald Trump.

The diversified healthcare group got off to a rocky start to
the year, forecasting 2017 sales and profit below Wall Street
estimates and reporting 2016 fourth-quarter sales short of
expectations. J&J shares fell 2.1 percent to $111.52

It also said it was reviewing strategic options, including
the possible sale, for some diabetes care businesses.

High prices for prescription medicines have come under
extreme criticism from health insurers and politicians, and J&J
was the first major healthcare company to report results since
Trump’s scathing remarks on the subject.

J&J said it has generally limited annual product price
increases to the single digits in percentage terms, something
other companies have begun to pledge to do.

“It’s important to price responsibly. We believe that has
been our practice,” CEO Alex Gorsky said on a conference call.

The company is planning to release what it is calling a
pharmaceutical transparency report. It will include expanded
disclosures on U.S. pricing, research and development expenses,
and compassionate care programs, Gorsky said.

Lack of transparency in how companies price medicines has
been a major sore point among industry critics.

‘DEGREE OF CONSERVATISM’

Gorsky was among business leaders who met with Trump on
Monday in Washington, and on Tuesday outlined his priorities,
including lower taxes to help U.S. companies better compete with
overseas rivals and being allowed to bring back cash held abroad
at a lower tax rate.

With Congress and Trump determined to repeal and replace the
Affordable Care Act (ACA), Gorsky said he hoped any new plan
would retain health coverage for people with pre-existing
conditions. He would also like to see a continued move toward
value-based care and a focus on wellness and preventive care.

J&J said it did not see a significant business uptick as a
result of former President Barack Obama’s health care law,
commonly referred to as Obamacare, and does not expect changes
to have a negative effect.

It said current fees and costs associated with the law were
included in its 2017 forecasts.

J&J forecast 2017 adjusted earnings of $6.93 to $7.08 per
share on revenue of $74.1 billion to $74.8 billion, below the
average analyst estimate for a profit of $7.11 per share on
revenue of $75.10 billion.

“We think the outlook reflects a degree of conservatism
rather than a reflection of caution on fundamentals,” Barclays
analyst Geoff Meacham said in a research note.

The company said it expected a slower growth rate for
pharmaceuticals this year.

Gorsky declined to comment on J&J’s exclusive talks to buy
Actelion Ltd, Europe’s biggest biotech, but said the $4.3 billion acquisition of Abbott Laboratories’ eye-care business would likely close this quarter.

The company is looking into a potential sale, partnerships
or other options for LifeScan Inc, Animas Corp and Calibra
Medical Inc, units that sell blood glucose monitoring and
insulin delivery devices. Diabetes devices had sales of $462
million for the quarter and were down 7.2 percent in 2016.

The review does not involve J&J’s big-selling diabetes
drugs.

Fourth-quarter sales rose 1.7 percent to $18.11 billion, shy
of the average analyst estimate of $18.28 billion, according to
Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Excluding items, J&J earned $1.58 per share, beating the
average estimate by 2 cents. (Additional reporting by Natalie Grover)



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