Yesterday, I participated in the #mmeds Twitter chat regarding Medicare hosted by Lilly (see “More Pharma Twitter Chats: Medicare is Topic“). I had high hopes that this would be an informative discussion, but those hopes faded once the official “chat” began.

Before the chat began, Lilly encouraged followers to ask questions: “Hope you can join @Modernmeds for a Twitter chat on #Medicare tomorrow at 4:00. Ask questions now via #mmeds” @Modernmeds is the Twitter account associated with The Campaign for Modern Medicines, which is sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company.

The TOP TEN contributors (in terms of posts made) to the #mmeds chat were:

  1.  @Modernmeds 
  2.  @pharmaguy 
  3.  @LillyPad 
  4.  @WVRx 
  5.  @HoosiersWFH 
  6.  @PhRMA 
  7.  @GHLForg 
  8.  @mikecapaldi 
  9.  @Outlandes 
  10.  @patientaccess
I am #2 primarily because I kept asking questions, many of which went unanswered, such as:
  • What’s Lilly’s position viz-a-viz republican proposals to privatize Medicare or raise premiums for higher-income seniors?
  • To reduce deficit, should gov’t raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 from 65?
  • Who wants to “break” Medicare Part D and how exactly? Let’s go lite on the buzz words, pls. (posted in response to @Modernmeds tweet: “Medicare Part D is a government program that is not broken; let’s not break it.”)
  • why does pharma think Part D is at risk of being “broken?”
  • Can you summarize the “proposed changes” u are talking about please? (posted in response to @Modernmeds tweet: “The proposed changes would also cause higher Part D premiums for seniors.”)

Finally, @Lillypad got so disgusted, it tweeted “we understand that you may not agree with us– this is a discussion!” to which I replied “I haven’t disagreed with anything u hv said so far – none of my Qs have been addressed.”

I wasn’t the only one to ask questions. Just before the official chat began, @ellsbelles3 posted this question: “I keep hearing that Medicare Part D is working and not to change it. what does that mean?” This sounded suspiciously like a setup from a phony ordinary citizen similar to “Joe the Plumber.”

I immediately opened up @ellsbelles3’s Twitter profile and found that despite the fact that the account was opened up more than 6 months ago, this was @ellsbelles3’s FIRST and only tweet!

I just had to ask her: “@ellsbelles3 C’mon… you’re a PhRMA agent, right? #mmeds”. No answer.

That’s @ellsbelles3 profile photo above (entitled “xmas_card_reasonably_small.jpg”). She’s located in Washington, DC. The vast majority of people that @ellsbelles3 follows on Twitter are politicians and media correspondents — exactly the types of people a public policy wonk like Amy O’Connor (aka, @Modernmeds and @LillyPad) would follow. In fact, Twitter says @aoconnorND (Amy O’Connor’s personal Twitter account) is an account with a very similar profile to @ellsbelles3. So, sorry, Amy. You don’t work for PhRMA (directly).

During the chat @Modernmeds and @PhRMA pushed out talking points such as “Medicare Part D is a government program that is not broken; let’s not break it.”, “Medicare Part D works, has high satisfaction rates, and the select committee should avoid mirroring Medicaid”, “Recent #JAMA study found access to Part D saves $1200/yr per senior in healthcare costs”, and “We are supportive of a market based system for Medicare Part D.” @LillyPad mostly RT’d these points.

Eventually, I figured out what Lilly et al were most concerned about: a proposal by lawmakers (democrats, I presume) to require pharma companies to offer “rebates” to help cover the out-of-pocket costs incurred by seniors who find themselves in Medicare Part D’s infamous “doughnut hole” (ie, where Medicare no longer pays for meds). The industry labels this proposal “price controls.”

In the end, after 30 minutes, we all agreed that the discussion just began. I wish there was more discussion in the beginning rather than the very end. I tried my best, but it’s difficult when the chat organizers have an agenda and dominate the “discussion” with talking points, buzz phrases, and calls to action.

Lilly et al obviously have a different view of what a Twitter chat should be than do I. To them it’s a press conference, not a conversation. Like a press conference, they can duck tough questions or just ignore inquisitive journalists (and bloggers) in the “audience.” In fact, that’s what I felt like during this chat: just another member of the “audience” who is expected to soak up and repeat talking points.

“We will have a chat next Wed at 10 AM, with our President of Lilly USA, Dave Ricks,” said @Modernmeds at the end of yesterday’s chat. Unfortunately, Mr. Ricks won’t be using his own Twitter account (I don’t believe he has one), but will “he will be using @Modernmeds’s Twitter handle next week,” said @Modernmeds. Which leads me to question whether Dave Ricks will actually participate in the chat or if @Modernmeds (Amy O’Connor) will just play the part of Dave Ricks (ie, be his “mouthpiece” as they say in the PR world).