KPMG pharma survey shows angst among executives; job prospects murky

One finding in KPMG's latest survey of pharmaceutical executives in a way reflects the conundrum of efforts to fix health care in America: People in every sector want to get more or make more money, while paying less and avoiding paperwork. Most patients are no different.

In May, KPMG asked 107 executives about their concerns in its 2012 Pharmaceutical Outlook Survey.

Sixty percent of executives said regulatory and legislative pressures are the most significant barrier to their company’s growth over the next year and 50 percent of executives said increasing regulation and enforcement was the top concern for their company’s future. Last year's top concern was patent expirations of key therapies and generic.

House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans fumed a couple weeks back about emails from 2009 between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry about provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The drug companies and insurance companies were identified as the clear winners among sectors when the law passed.

However, because many consumers dislike paying anything for health care, including drugs, and the Obama administration needed to find more ways to cut the deficit, it subsequently suggested that drug companies pay more to sell pills through the government's Medicare insurance program. Big Pharma was not happy about that at all.

Meanwhile, logic would suggest the priority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to do whatever it can to make sure drugs entering the market are safe. (Remember Vioxx?)

If the Supreme Court overturns the health-care law next week, there will be a lot more uncertainty - in all sectors.

“Pharmaceutical executives are struggling to grow revenue in the face of pricing and regulatory pressures, including fines, taxation, fees and reporting requirements,” David Blumberg, KPMG partner and pharmaceutical advisory sector leader, said in a statement. Blumberg works from KPMG's Philadelphia office. “This is an especially difficult business environment, with no clear single path forward. So overall, we are seeing an unusual combination of tentativeness combined with pockets of creative experimentation.”

Meanwhile, the employment outlook seems murky.

Twenty six percent of executives surveyed said head counts would be about the same, an increase from the up from 20 percent a year ago. The survey also said 20 percent said the head count would decrease one to three percent, up from 15 percent a year ago, and 18 percent said it would increase one to three percent, down from 21 percent a year ago.

“Executives have been cutting costs and making operations more efficient for some time,” Blumberg said. “Headcount appears to be stabilizing on an aggregate basis.”