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Dispensed Business Insider’s weekly healthcare newsletter March 6




Welcome to Dispensed, Business Insider’s weekly healthcare newsletter, where it feels like the past week has lasted exactly a month.

Dear readers, I hope you’re all staying healthy and are hanging in there with the influx of information about the novel coronavirus as it spreads in the US.

I’ll get into all the updates we learned this week on the virus and elsewhere in the industry but first: Are you new to the newsletter? You can sign up here

Do you ever get back from a short vacation and realize you’ve missed what seems like a year of news? That was me, reading through all the updates on the novel coronavirus last Friday

Here’s a look at what we’ve learned since then. 

How the US is tackling the coronavirus outbreak

At the time I’m writing this, the US had reported more than 240 cases of coronavirus and 14 deaths. 

Companies are telling employees to work from home, hospital workers are getting asked not to travel, major conferences – including HIMSS! — are getting canceled. It’s been remarkable to see how the outbreak has touched practically every desk in the newsroom and every part of daily life. 

Personally, I’m following the conversation around coverage for coronavirus. This week, we saw Washington, California and New York require insurance plans to waive costs associated with patients getting tested for the virus

I’m also tracking the supply issues the US could be facing. The novel coronavirus outbreak could lead to shortages of key medications like antibiotics, depending on how China fares.

Stephane Bancel

Moderna CEO, Stephane Bancel attends 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit at the Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 05, 2019 in New York City.

Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Andrew Dunn made a trip up to Boston this week to meet with Moderna.

First: you can expect a potential coronavirus vaccine to be priced about where other respiratory-infection vaccines are priced, CEO Stephane Bancel told Andrew. For context: Prevnar 13, a vaccine to prevent pneumonia, costs $800 for four injections. 

And out today: Andrew got an inside look at how Moderna’s developing its potential coronavirus vaccine.

There, he was greeted with a foot-tap instead of a handshake and traveled an hour outside Boston to Norwood, Massachusetts where most of the work on the vaccine is underway. 

Read Andrew’s story here: 

‘Crazy hours, short nights’: The inside story of how a buzzy biotech upstart developed a potential coronavirus vaccine in record time

health insurance startups 4x3

Bright Health CEO Bob Sheehy, Devoted Health co-founder and executive chairman Todd Park, Clover Health CEO Vivek Garipalli, and Oscar Health CEO Mario Schlosser.

Bright Health; Alex Wong/Getty; Clover Health; Oscar Health; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

We’re getting our first look at how health insurance startups fared in 2019

When I wasn’t writing about coronavirus, I was going deep on health insurer earnings for 2019.

We’re still waiting on a filing or two for Devoted and Bright Health, but in the meantime, I’ve rounded up the results for Alignment Healthcare, Oscar Health, and Clover Health.

If you’ve been following my reporting for the past year or so, you’ve seen me pull together the quarterly financial filings from the private health insurers. I cover a lot of startups with high valuations, and it’s always so difficult to get a good sense of a company’s financials when they’re private and don’t have to disclose. 

Health insurers are different. They’re regulated by state insurance departments, which means they have to share what they’re taking in as premiums, what they’re spending on medical claims, how many members they have, and of course, if they’re making money or losing money. 

Read on to see how they fared in 2019: 

New to BI Prime? Use my link here to get 20% off your BI Prime subscription.


Ro founders Rob Schutz, Zachariah Reitano, and Saman Rahmanian.


Signs of growth in the direct-to-consumer health space 

It’s almost impossible to think about anything else this week, but I’ll leave you with a scoop I had. 

Ro, the parent company behind Roman, is getting into allergy treatments and is shifting its approach to setting up “digital health clinics” for men and women. That is, associating men’s health with Roman and women’s health with Rory, akin to rival Hims and Hers’ brands.

(Relatedly: the company said Friday it’s now offering a free coronavirus assessment + free telehealth visits.

As CNBC reported later in the week, it’s looking more and more like a model that could be a competitor to Amazon’s PillPack than a place to simply get a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. 

Read the full story here: 

Buzzy healthcare startup Ro built a huge business selling Viagra and hair loss treatments online. The CEO shared how allergy pills and ‘digital health clinics’ will fuel the next phase of growth.

With that, I’ll leave you with a bit of levity.

My colleague Mary Meisenzahl writes that there’s a robot wandering around NYC informing people about the coronavirus and testing them for symptoms. It’s already been banned from one park, and honestly some days when I think of the intersection of healthcare and technology, this is completely what I’d imagine happening. 

Read on for some excellent robot pictures.

And I’d love to hear more about how you’re holding up in the wake of the outbreak. Are you in one of the coronavirus hotspots? Are you already tired of working from home while practicing social isolation? Are you a healthcare worker worried about how the response to the outbreak in the US is going so far?

I want to hear from you: find me at

And as always, you can reach the whole healthcare team at

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to wash your hands

– Lydia 

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Two stores, two decades, one pandemic survived for downtown retailer




Owning a business is not something that Vicki Tompkins grew up dreaming of, but in her now decades of entrepreneurship she said she “loves every aspect of it.” 

Tompkins has run the For Men Only (FMO) and For Women Only (FWO) downtown clothing boutiques since they opened in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

“It’s not perfect every day by any means, but for the most part, it’s great,” she said. 

Even through the quiet early pandemic days, the stores stayed open.

Vicki Tompkins has been running the For Women Only and For Men Only stores for two decades. In the early days of the pandemic, she admits she panicked over possible bankruptcy but has since “beefed up” web presence and been able to persevere. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo.

“Actually just coming into the store, even if nobody came in, was just really nice to be able to come in and sort of calm down and not be sitting at home freaking out,” Tompkins said. 

When the losses hit, Tompkins laid off almost all her staff – upwards of nine – though she has since been able to bring back a full time employee in each store. 

She said there was a lot of thinking “oh my god I’m going to bankrupt,” but then “I just started persevering and started to really try and calm down.”

Tompkins reduced store hours and worked to “beef up” her online presence through social media and the stores’ websites. FMO and FWO began offering delivery services and taking shopping appointments so patrons could come in one at a time to look around without fear of coming into contact with other residents’ household bubbles. 

She said the losses are significant but that she’s “still here.”

“I still eat well, I drink wine on Fridays,” she said. “It’s not great, but it’s fine.” 

Government assistance has also helped, she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m still open.”

By trade, Tompkins is an artist.

She didn’t have a background in business at the time, but when the possibility of opening a store came up in discussion with friends, it seemed like a way of bringing together the skills Tompkins had amassed through various jobs throughout her life. 

“Sometimes you just fall into jobs. It just sort of happens.”

She acknowledges there are challenges to running a store and frequently facing risk head on, but when Tompkins said she “loves doing this,” she’s quick to list the reasons why. 

“I like the buying, I like doing the books, I love the customers. I love finding people things.” 

“It’s very satisfying to sell somebody something when they come out and they love it and you love it, when you both just feel like ‘yes, this is the right thing for you right now.’” 

From working in a small town for so many years, Tompkins said she’s gotten to know the people who come into the store. That way, when she does the buying, she said she really knows who the product is for and say “that line will really work for that person.”

On the other hand, Tompkins said it can be a challenge to manage customers’ expectations. She decides personally each item that is sold in the store and as fashions change, so do the products. When customers come in looking for the same pair of pants they bought five years ago, or a specific boot, she has to remind them “I’m not Amazon.” She said it is just another way that customer service fascinates her.  

To other entrepreneurs, Tompkins said “you really have to find your passion.”

Vicki Tompkins’ background is in art but said she “loves every aspect” of running her business. Natalie Pressman/NNSL Photo.

“There’s a lot more to jobs, as everybody knows, than what meets the eye,” she said, so you have to have a love of the work to keep you motivated.  

Tompkins emphasized the importance of buying local, in Yellowknife and across the country. 

“I think it’s really opened people’s eyes to, ‘if you don’t support us, then we’re not going to be here.’” 


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FirstOnSite Restoration opens business in new locations




FirstOnSite Restoration opens business in new locations

Driven by its recent business growth despite the challenges of the pandemic, emergency restoration and reconstruction service provider FirstOnSite Restoration has opened a new branch in New Brunswick, as well as relocating its Winnipeg branch to a much larger facility.

FirstOnSite Restoration’s new branch in New Brunswick is located in Fredericton; the firm says that by investing in a local facility it strengthens its commitment to customers and insurance partners.

The new branch will be led by acting branch manager Kevin Bourque, and will be holding a grand opening event on November 05.

“The launch of the Fredericton branch strengthens FirstOnSite’s commitment to New Brunswick and the surrounding region,” said FirstOnSite Restoration Atlantic regional vice-president Darren Bezanson. “The team is excited and ready to serve our insurance partners and customers by helping them to prepare for, mitigate and recover from any type of property loss.”

FirstOnSite Restoration has also relocated its Winnipeg branch, after the regional team grew from six to 25 employees. The new 14,000 square foot facility has a larger warehouse space, a carpentry shop, and a separate cleaning space for managing damaged property contents. The new branch opens November 09.

“The relocation is the result of immense growth we are seeing in Winnipeg and the surrounding region,” commented FirstOnSite Restoration Prairies regional vice-president Jamie Mackie. “The larger facility will allow the branch to operate more efficiently, reflecting our ongoing mission to provide unmatched customer service.”

The branch has also added to its leadership team with the appointment of Dan Plouffe as complex loss project manager.

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Talking small business resiliency at Chamber town hall




CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce held their second of a series of virtual town halls as a part of small business month on Thursday, Oct. 29.

The focus of the second town hall was supporting small business through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber invited a number of local representatives from different levels of government and organizations to talk about ways that they had worked to support small businesses during the pandemic.

Representatives included Greg Pietersma, Executive Director of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce, Denis Lapierre of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Business Advisory Branch, Candy Pollard of the Cornwall Business Enterprise Centre (CBEC) and Martha Woods of the Eastern Ontario Training Board (EOTB).

Much like the businesses they support, these organizations explained that they too had to pivot as a result of the pandemic. For the Chamber, in some ways, their mission remained consistent, namely serving as an advocate for local business.

“The thing we are most proud of here at the Chamber is that we were open throughout,” said Pietersma. “That was something that was of big importance to our board was that we be here for businesses when they needed us.”

Lapierre explained that during the pandemic, his ministry shifted to coordinating with businesses to support frontline workers, primarily through the Ontario Together Portal, which, amongst other things, helped provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline workers and aggregated a list of businesses who produce PPE.

The panel talked about the resiliency they had seen from small businesses during the pandemic.

“Some of the main street businesses we have that have impressed me the most, like the Happy Popcorn Company, and Brunch on Pitt,” said Pollard. “They opened up and changed completely. They figured out how to get people to order ahead. It was ‘how do I get my products online. How do I get people to know I have these things.’”

Pollard had explained how during the pandemic, they had offered seminars to small businesses to help show them how to manage cash flow during the pandemic, and continue advertising.

“Through it all, I saw people who wanted to open a new business or had already opened and wanted to continue that new business,” she said. “I’ve been totally amazed at how versatile and how people have adjusted almost on the spot.”

Lapierre said one of the most important ways that a business could pivot during the pandemic was through online accessibility. He pointed to the Digital Main Street project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping businesses create online stores, and promote online advertising.

On Oct. 30, the Chamber will be holding another virtual seminar on tourism with Archie’s Family Golf Centre being a keynote speaker.

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