THU AM News: Prescription drug price task force meeting focuses on pharmacy benefit managers; Evers calls special session to address farm crisis

— A drug industry expert argued at a recent meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices that requiring greater supply chain transparency would benefit consumers.

“What I would really like to know is for each drug, who’s making how much money?” said Neeraj Sood, a professor and vice dean for faculty affairs and research at the University of Southern California. He spoke yesterday during the council’s second meeting, held in Madison.

According to Sood, various industry players contribute to inflated drug prices depending on the drug in question by keeping more money for themselves.

Pharmacy benefit managers have been blamed in the past by small pharmacies and others for contributing to rising prices, and yesterday’s meeting was largely focused on PBMs. Upcoming task force meetings will highlight other links in the supply chain. 

“Right now, we really don’t know who to target for what drug, because we really don’t know who is making money from the sales of this drug,” Sood said.

Robert Galle, chief operating officer for Anthem’s PBM subsidiary IngenioRx, urged task force members to “have a very balanced view” as they work toward creating a list of suggestions for the governor. 

PBMs act as gatekeepers for the prescription drug marketplace, providing market access to both pharmacies and manufacturers while also negotiating reimbursements, rebates and other fees. 

Sood explained these companies can make money by keeping part of the rebate from the drugmaker, or by charging health plans a different price than what was paid to the pharmacy. PBMs can set prices for the health plan higher than the pharmacy cost paid by members and keep the difference in an arrangement called spread-pricing.

“The reality is that PBMs do make money. They do. But that’s how a lot of other folks within the food chain make money,” Galle said. 

See more: 

— Gov. Tony Evers announced in his second State of the State on Wednesday a three-pronged approach to addressing the challenges facing Wisconsin farmers, starting with a special session next week to invest in agriculture and rural communities.

The package of farm bills Evers announced includes an effort to increase the state’s dairy exports to 20 percent of the nation’s milk supply for 2024. Other bills include improving access to mental health services for farmers and creating a program to help connect them and the food they produce with universities, hospitals and local businesses across Wisconsin.

The second prong creates the Office of Rural Prosperity in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to help navigate state programs and resources for those in smaller communities. The final piece is a blue-ribbon commission to promote agriculture and rural economic prosperity.

Evers noted some of the proposals were in his state budget but GOP lawmakers pulled them from the document. He argued there is a renewed urgency to take them up now that the state is losing two farms a day and “for each day we delay, the challenges will get harder and harder.”

Evers also took a swipe at comments USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue made during a stop in Wisconsin this past summer that “the big get bigger and the small go out.” Many saw that as dismissive of the small dairy farms that have been part of Wisconsin’s identity.

Evers said those who think that are “wrong” and don’t know Wisconsin.

“We have leaned on farmers and their families, we have depended on their dedication, and we have relied on their resilience,” Evers said. “We have not forgotten those who have shared the harvest and bounty, feeding our families, our communities, and our state, and our country for more than a century. And tonight, we say that we are ready to be a partner in the promise of posterity.”

See more from the speech at 

— MIT Research Specialist Kate Darling urged a crowd of Wisconsin farmers to think of artificial intelligence as more akin to animal intelligence than human thought. 

“We’ve treated animals like tools, products or companions and sometimes in between, like with farm animals,” Darling said yesterday in her keynote speech at the Dairy Strong conference in Madison. “There will also be a spectrum to how we treat robots as well.”

The emerging field of precision agriculture relies on AI to analyze data on crop health, weather, and other factors. 

“I know that the dairy industry is more savvy with tech than other industries in terms of integrating the technology that is available,” Darling said. “You may be turning to automation because you have labor shortages, and you need automation to pick up the slack.” 

Darling said she believes robots are tools that can assist humans — like animals have throughout history — not replace them. 

“We often talk about robots as being a one-to-one human replacement for jobs,” said Darling. “We can’t make these birds-eye predictions without looking at individual industries.” 

Darling noted different industries deal with automation in different ways. In some cases when the work is dangerous, dirty or dull, replacing human workers with robots could be preferable. 

“AI is a partner in what we achieve rather than human abilities,” Darling said. “We know that AI is not like human intelligence. They can work tirelessly and see patterns, but robots don’t understand context.”

She said farmers and other industries should look to develop technologies that enhance human productivity. 

“Robots to milk cows, dispense feed or tracking technologies — these technologies are working to help farmers to free up their time to focus on more important things, where human skills are brought to the table,” Darling said. 

— Foxconn founder Terry Gou told employees at a recent new year’s party in Taiwan that production will begin this year at the company’s manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, according to a recent report from Bloomberg. 

Gou said he will be spending more time in the United States this year and hopes many of his employees will go to work in the U.S. manufacturing industry, the report shows. 

See more in Foxconn Reports below. 

— Organizers with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin have announced the state’s first Art of Cheese Festival will be held in mid-August in Madison. 

The event will feature tours of local dairy farms and other dairy businesses, classes on cheese making and pairings, a pop-up cheese market downtown and other activities. It will be held Aug. 14-16. 

Wisconsin Cheesemakers is also playing a role in the event, which will highlight the 1,200 cheese producers in the state. Tickets are not yet being sold. 

See the release: 

See the website for the event: 

— Democratic lawmakers are introducing legislation aimed at reducing youth vaping rates after Gov. Tony Evers called for action on the “public health epidemic” that vaping represents. 

In a release, Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, notes that one in three high schoolers in the state have tried vaping and one in five currently use e-cigarettes or similar devices. 

She’s introducing four bills focused on the issue, one of which would fund a public health campaign focused on teens and create a grant program supporting certain organizations. Another bill would give the state Department of Health Services more authority to declare public health emergencies with a focus on vaping. 

A third bill would ban vaping on school grounds and a fourth would require retailers to store vaping products behind the counter, matching a requirement for other tobacco products. 

“This legislation will help slow down the growth of the vaping epidemic spreading across our communities, and reduce future use among our youth,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Rep. Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, are introducing a bill that would require retailers to have a specific license to sell vaping products. 

Shilling references in a separate release the recent spate of lung diseases linked to vaping, noting the devices have caused dozens of deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 2,602 lung injury cases have occurred and 59 people have died. 

See more on Schachtner’s bills: 

See the release from Shilling: 

— MadREP is hosting a presentation on an upcoming trade venture to Germany with Paul Smerda, senior manager at WEDC’s European trade representative firm in Berlin.  

Smerda will meet with members of the Madison Region Economic Partnership on Monday in Madison to answer questions. His area of expertise covers Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Central Europe, and Scandinavia. 

German was the state’s fourth-largest export destination in 2018 with $814 million in exports to the country. In hopes of boosting that number, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will lead a trade venture to Germany on June 13-20. 

See more on the trade venture: 

Get details on the info session: 

— The MKE Tech Hub Coalition has appointed Kathy Henrich as the organization’s new CEO. 

The group aims to grow Milwaukee’s tech ecosystem, with a goal of doubling the number of tech workers in the region by 2025. This effort started with Milwaukee’s top employers including Advocate Aurora Health, Accenture, Johnson Controls, Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual and Kohl’s. 

Henrich has more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry and spent time at Accenture and IBM. 

See the release: 


# Evers unveils plan to tackle Wisconsin’s farm crisis

# Molson Coors craft beer division buys Michigan’s Atwater Brewery

# Wisconsin home sales for 2019 pull nearly even with 2018

# Milwaukee Public Market again set records for sales, visits in 2019



– Petition period opens for 2020 ag enterprise areas

– WABA honors members during Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic


– Epic to resume campus expansion with two new buildings


– Dave Matthews Band to headline Summerfest


– Chick-fil-A plans February opening of first Delafield restaurant


– Foxconn’s Terry Gou vows to fire up Wisconsin plant this year


– Assembly signs off on latest round of HOPE bills from Rep. John Nygren


– Westallion Brewing plans to grow staff, expand beer production in 2020


– Dubbel Dutch, boutique hotel in converted historic mansion, will be ready for DNC


– Milwaukee Public Market continues to grow visits, sales


– Brewers’ ballpark will be called American Family Field starting in 2021

– Brewers home ballpark to be renamed American Family Field


– MKE Tech Hub Coalition appoints Accenture executive as CEO


– Marshall Street mansion to open as Dubbel Dutch boutique hotel in time for DNC


– Dr. Emily Buttigieg: Wisconsin should treat abortion as health care, not a crime


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