Lilly, Merck oppose concept of U.S. health plan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Top executives of U.S. drugmakers Eli Lilly and Co and Merck & Co on Wednesday said they oppose the concept of a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurers.

“We’re against a government plan,” Lilly Chief Executive John Lechleiter said at the Goldman Sachs Annual Healthcare Conference in New York, calling the concept of such a plan bad policy.

“You’d have 100 million people shuttled in overnight; it would limit coverage and delay access,” Lechleiter told investors and money managers at the New York meeting.

Adam Schechter, head of global pharmaceuticals for Merck, earlier in the day told an audience at the Goldman Sachs conference that his company opposes the idea of a government health plan that would compete with private insurers.

Lechleiter and Schechter expressed their concerns as Congress continues to explore legislation to revamp the nation’s healthcare system.

Some Congressional leaders have endorsed the idea of creating a public health insurance program that would compete with private health plans.

In other remarks, Lechleiter said his Indianapolis-based company remains wary of big acquisitions because of the difficulty of preserving innovation, and would prefer to keep its sights on small or mid-size transactions.

“We could do another deal in the mid-cap space, which is the $5 billion to $15 billion range, but are interested in smaller deals as well,” Lechleiter said.

Although Lilly remains focused on cancer and biotech medicines, the CEO said the company needs to widen its vision.

“I’d like to be more diversified,” Lechleiter said, but stressed that Lilly has no interest in entering the generics drug business or setting up a separate “biogenerics” business -- meaning a unit that makes its own version of existing biotech drugs.

Instead, he said Lilly would like to selectively create “biobetter” drugs, which he defined as biotech drugs whose effectiveness and safety are “absolutely trumping existing therapies.”

Lechleiter noted that Lilly’s Humalog bioengineered insulin drug loses patent protection in 2013, but indicated the company is not considering developing a generic form of the widely used diabetes treatment because it would be more profitable to focus on other products.

Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz