By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson's <JNJ.N> chief executive officer said on Tuesday that responsible drug pricing is a priority and discussed changes he would like to see on the U.S. tax code and healthcare policy, one day after meeting with President Donald Trump.
The diversified healthcare group got off to a rocky start to the year, forecasting 2017 sales and profit below Wall Street estimates and reporting 2016 fourth-quarter sales short of expectations. J&J shares fell 2.1 percent to $111.52
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It also said it was reviewing strategic options, including the possible sale, for some diabetes care businesses.
High prices for prescription medicines have come under extreme criticism from health insurers and politicians, and J&J was the first major healthcare company to report results since Trump's scathing remarks on the subject.
J&J said it has generally limited annual product price increases to the single digits in percentage terms, something other companies have begun to pledge to do.
"It's important to price responsibly. We believe that has been our practice," CEO Alex Gorsky said on a conference call.
The company is planning to release what it is calling a pharmaceutical transparency report. It will include expanded disclosures on U.S. pricing, research and development expenses, and compassionate care programs, Gorsky said.
Lack of transparency in how companies price medicines has been a major sore point among industry critics.
'DEGREE OF CONSERVATISM'
Gorsky was among business leaders who met with Trump on Monday in Washington, and on Tuesday outlined his priorities, including lower taxes to help U.S. companies better compete with overseas rivals and being allowed to bring back cash held abroad at a lower tax rate.
With Congress and Trump determined to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Gorsky said he hoped any new plan would retain health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He would also like to see a continued move toward value-based care and a focus on wellness and preventive care.
J&J said it did not see a significant business uptick as a result of former President Barack Obama's health care law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, and does not expect changes to have a negative effect.
It said current fees and costs associated with the law were included in its 2017 forecasts.
J&J forecast 2017 adjusted earnings of $6.93 to $7.08 per share on revenue of $74.1 billion to $74.8 billion, below the average analyst estimate for a profit of $7.11 per share on revenue of $75.10 billion.
"We think the outlook reflects a degree of conservatism rather than a reflection of caution on fundamentals," Barclays analyst Geoff Meacham said in a research note.
The company said it expected a slower growth rate for pharmaceuticals this year.
Gorsky declined to comment on J&J's exclusive talks to buy Actelion Ltd <ATLN.S>, Europe's biggest biotech, but said the $4.3 billion acquisition of Abbott Laboratories' <ABT.N> eye-care business would likely close this quarter.
The company is looking into a potential sale, partnerships or other options for LifeScan Inc, Animas Corp and Calibra Medical Inc, units that sell blood glucose monitoring and insulin delivery devices. Diabetes devices had sales of $462 million for the quarter and were down 7.2 percent in 2016.
The review does not involve J&J's big-selling diabetes drugs.
Fourth-quarter sales rose 1.7 percent to $18.11 billion, shy of the average analyst estimate of $18.28 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Excluding items, J&J earned $1.58 per share, beating the average estimate by 2 cents.
(Additional reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Jeffrey Benkoe)