Obama-Romney debate No. 3 was on foreign policy (mostly). And it largely stayed away from topics and places that matter in healthcare. But then in one of the presidential debate’s final detours into domestic policy, Gov. Mitt Romney outlined his vision of government investment in research versus private businesses.
We in this country can — can compete successfully with anyone in the world, and we’re going to. We’re going to have to have a president, however, that doesn’t think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars. This is not research, Mr President, these are the government investing in companies. Investing in Solyndra. This is a company, this isn’t basic research. I — I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks is great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not.
Providing funding to universities and think tanks is great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not.
At first blush that would sound like a healthcare win. Battleground states among many others crave research funding. Could Romney’s comment equate to more funding for bench-to-bedside medicine in American great research institutions? Could it mean science funding via the National Institutes of Health? That would be a big win for healthcare and science. Cutting through the political talk in both parties, NIH funding has been dead and stagnant for almost a decade.
But not so fast. That comment is, at the least, a colossal gaffe and, at worst, a direct slap in the face of many in the healthcare industry who have been trying to find all kinds of ways to get public dollars into private companies. As Forbes’ Matt Herper quickly pointed out after Romney’s comment: “What I hear from drug industry is that many want NIH to make investments in companies.”
There’s the efforts to get more SBIR dollars into primarily ventured-owned companies. There’s the evidence than, within the public funding of genomics research, those public dollars have trickled into private companies and helped fuel jobs and innovation. And hordes of dollars are already available to small businesses via a myriad of NIH small business research funding opportunities not to mention DARPA.
Was this off-the-cuff remark an insight into a policy wrinkle that could send healthcare entrepreneurs and investors reeling? Or was it nothing more than a big, blanket statement that means nothing? It will be interesting to hear the spin through the rest of the week.
Steve Caplan, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, took a look at the candidates policies three weeks ago and found it was almost a wash. Caplan gave the edge to President Barack Obama. But Romney seems to mean what he says. His focused frustration is Obama’s oft-flogged investments in the green energy sector. And, of course, it will be hard to win the medical device sector away from Romney considering his blunt desire to repeal the medical device tax.