Asembia 2024: Addressing Access and Affordability Issues With Collaboration

In 2024, the Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit celebrated 20 years and speakers highlighted the conversations around improving access and affordability taking place at the meeting.

The Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit (AXS24) celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2024, and speakers highlighted the conversations around improving access and affordability in health care that take place at the meeting. ASX24 took place April 28 to May 2 in Las Vegas, Nevada, bringing together C-suite executives, market access professionals, pharmacy owners and operators, managed care leadership, pharmacists, physicians, and more.

The following speakers provided their takeaways from the 2024 meeting:

  • Joe DePinto, MBA, head of cell, gene, and advanced therapies, McKesson
  • Christie Smith, PharmD, MBA, vice president, Pharmacy and payer Strategy, Cencora
  • Jon Mahrt, MBA, president, pharmacy benefit manager, and chief operating officer, OptumRX
  • Autumn Zuckerman, PharmD, BCPS, CSP, director, Health Outcomes, Vanderbilt Specialty Pharmacy
  • Fran Gregory, PharmD, MBA, vice president of emerging therapies, Cardinal Health
  • Ryan Nix, PharmD, MMHC, senior director of operations, Vanderbilt Specialty Pharmacy

Common takeaways from all the speakers were the conversations around access and affordability and ways for new collaborations to help with both of those issues.


What was the most interesting thing from this year's Asembia meeting?

DePinto: First of all, it's great to see Asembia celebrate its 20th anniversary of leadership in health care. That's amazing. This is a conference that's grown quite significantly. I think the themes here around patient access and commonalities around really intimately understanding the patient journey resonates for me, because that's how we make an impact on market access. Understanding the barriers and the challenges of the patient journey is really critical. It also resonates for me as a cell and gene therapy advocate. It's really important that in that space, we intimately understand the patient journey, the product journey, and the reimbursement journey. So, I've seen a lot of focus here on the patient journey, which is a good thing for patients.

Smith: I've been practicing pharmacy for 30 years in many different capacities. This is my first time at Asembia, and I am just amazed at all of the stakeholders that are present. I've heard over the years that Asembia has grown and grown, but we have all types of interests here. Of course, you’ve got your manufacturer partners, but you also have the advocacy partners, like Frier Levitt is here. We have health plans that are here—I'm presenting with a health plan—having meet and greets with all types of stakeholders. And it's just a great learning opportunity. So, if you have not had the pleasure of attending Asembia, it is worth the investment, because you're going to take back not only tons of new information from the CEs and all the sessions, but most importantly, [there is] relationship building.

Mahrt: The most interesting thing: I love the passion that I've observed. So many folks that I have spoken with [are] uniting…around…affordability and access, and if we can come together to work on the strategies that enable affordability and access. So, what has really struck me this year is the passion that is woven into the majority of my conversations around affordability and access.

Zuckerman: Asembia is always a really great time to meet with manufacturers and like we're talking about breaking down those silos. I've been coming to Asembia for 8 years now, and I think that the most interesting thing that I've seen is the evolution of manufacturers’ understanding that IDNs [integrated delivery networks] are important in the distribution process, and that we provide the best possible patient care. I think what's still a little bit frustrating is, how do we do that? How do we allow IDNs in network? How do we understand their capabilities?

So, my takeaway, a big takeaway from this meeting is learning to speak each other's languages and building those collaborations in a way that is meaningful for both of us. I'm excited about that opportunity.

Gregory: One of the things that I love about Asembia, and have for years, is their focus on specialty pharmacy and innovative medicine. They are very supportive of innovation in any shape or form. So, when we think about innovation or emerging therapies, biosimilars, being a key to unlocking savings for the health care system, must be balanced with the cost that is being incurred with cell and gene therapy and other advanced therapies. I'm hearing that multiple times throughout this conference—not only in sessions, but in individual meetings with stakeholders across the health care continuum—is that we really do need to optimize the savings to balance out that cost that we're seeing coming with the cell and gene therapies today and in the future.

Nix: One of the reasons, actually, that we come to this conference is because we talk to external stakeholders all the time trying to understand some of these things and discrepancies. We think that we do a better job within health systems and managing our own patients, and we would like to continue to do that. But we do understand the reasoning behind why folks would want to limit drug access.

We come to these conferences really to have those conversations because what better place right to get everybody in the room together, including your real decision makers, to talk through some of these things and figure out, “Hey, we can do this better. How can we collaborate together to really to break down these silos to operate more efficiently?”

A couple years ago, we heard it time and time again, “No, we're not going to extend access to IDNs. This isn't the appropriate time to do that; we're going to evaluate our networks and we'll come back to it maybe later.” But I think this year, we've really gotten more traction on that idea [that] we're finding that there's still barriers, we're having barriers in getting these patients coming from IDNs onto therapy quickly. They just run into one problem after another. There’s got to be a way that we can do this better. That's provided us with that segue into, “Let's have more collaborations, let's have more open conversation about this and how we can do it better.”

I still think we have a long way to go continuing to break down these silos and say, “How can we be more open about what our needs are and sharing from that perspective? This is what my needs are as a health system. This is what your needs are as a manufacturer.” We're working on it, but I've been very inspired by this year's conversations and that openness to say, “Let's work on something better. I'm ready to kind of look at what our options are and figure out how we can do this in a better way.”

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