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Fourteen States Launch Constitutional Challenge to Health Care Reform Bill

Written by on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Fourteen states filed suit yesterday to challenge the constitutionality of the health care reform bill.

The states of Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington joined together in a suit filed in Florida.

Virginia filed its own suit separately.

The crux of these suits is the constitutionality of the new health care legislation, which will now increase the federal government’s regulatory powers into health care insurance, which had been traditionally regulated at the state level (along with most private insurance), and will impose penalties on individuals for failing to purchase private insurance policies.

If you have been following the commentary on this issue at all, you know that this argument is basically a classic states’ rights debate: that the legislation deprives the states of sovereignty and violates the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states.

Of course, the other side of the argument says that the bill is constitutional because Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce under the commerce clause of the Constitution.

As most lawyers recall from our Constitutional Law courses in law school, the commerce clause has been read in recent years to provide the federal government greater and greater powers to regulate interstate commerce in various ways.   For this reason, many commentators are predicting that the legislation will stand up under constitutional scrutiny.

But should it withstand constitutional scrutiny?   There is no question that insurance generally, and particularly health insurance, has up until now been entirely within the purview of state regulation.  Each state has its own regulatory requirements for what can be in health insurance plans offered under that state, each state has its own insurance commissioners, and each state makes independent regularly decisions about the activities of individual insurers.  We haven’t even been able to buy insurance over state lines–if you move to a new state, you have to get a new policy entirely.  So, clearly insurance has long been viewed as falling under the purview of the states.

Moreover, this legislation now allows the federal government to mandate that you buy health insurance, and if you do not, you will be penalized by the IRS.  While supporters argue that this is like state laws requiring that you buy car insurance, I think that there is a valid argument that this is different.  In the case of car insurance, states are imposing these requirements on residents of their state who choose to avail themselves of the privilege of driving, in order to protect other drivers from injury.  It’s hard to see the parallel when this is a federal instead of a state exercise of power, and when there is no privilege like driving involved with health care, which Democrats are now calling a “right.”

The bottom line is that the IRS is entwined in this bill, and there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will read this bill to be a valid exercise of commerce clause powers–even more so because a taxation component is involved.

However, if that happens, I think supporters of this bill should look beyond the current legislative debate and consider how continuing to broaden the commerce clause powers might be used in the future.  Extending the commerce clause is going to someday make it that much easier for a Republican Congress to use the new enhanced commerce clause powers in a way that may not be quite so palatable to Democrats.  Continuing to allow an encroachment of states’ rights does have consequences and they are consequences that may very well cut in both directions.   I think it is an open question as to whether we as Americans want to continue to see the commerce clause powers continuing to encroach on states’ rights.   The line is moving further and further over into the traditional purview of the states: where is the hard stop?  Do we as Americans care enough to draw a line in the sand and say it stops in any particular place or are we okay with the states’ powers continuing to dwindle?

Clearly, this challenge raises some very interesting constitutional and societal issues.  So, whether you support health care reform and this particular piece of legislation, or you oppose it, I would urge you to tune into this Constitutional debate.  How the issues are decided will have an impact that goes far beyond our recent health care reform debate. The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to follow this issue as it unfolds.

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Biotech Industry Evaluates Anticipated Impact of Health Care Reform

Written by on Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Well, unless you have spent the last few weeks stranded on a desert island, you probably know that yesterday was the big health care vote.  As expected, the Democratic majority in the House passed the health care reform bill–despite the fact that the bill was vigorously opposed by a large percentage of the American public.

While the legal battle challenging the constitutionality of the law is just getting started and is likely to continue for some time, the biotech industry is just starting to process what yesterday’s vote will mean for its industry.

BIO,  the biotech industry organization, released a statement on the vote yesterday, which took a decidedly positive tone.  In support of its position, BIO cited three key benefits of the bill:

  1. The bill provides hope for Americans living with debilitating diseases.
  2. The bill created a pathway to enable the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to approve biosimilars.
  3. The bill included a Therapeutic Discovery Project Tax Credit, which is designed to provide financial relief to some biotech companies that are suffering in tight credit markets.

Why was BIO so positive about this legislation?

Well, the remarks suggest that BIO is happy with several of the carrots that were thrown at the industry in this bill: biosimilar legislation and a tax credit for biotech companies.

Noticeably absent in the BIO statement, however, was any statement to the effect that health care reform will advance the biotech industry in any way.  Instead, the only reference made to reform itself was that it will bring “hope” to Americans suffering from diseases.  Is this an oversight on BIO’s part?  In my opinion, no.

While there is no doubt that most biotech industry members applaud the idea of providing health care to all Americans, and you can certainly say that reform will increase the potential customer base for biotech products, it is a definite  stretch to say that this reform bill will prove beneficial in any way to the biotech industry.   How could it?  Any enterpreneur in the biotech space knows that the U.S. market has always been the most lucrative due to compensation issues–the U.S. consumer finances the world’s drug development costs.  What happens when you impose drug price controls, which are inevitable in government-controlled health care?  It doesn’t take an expert to see that the world’s most lucrative market will become a lot less lucrative.  It will become like most of the other markets in the world, which have price controls, too.  This kind of change will inevitably impact entrepreneurship in the biotech space.  Launching a biotech company requires huge risk and tremendous investment capital.  Will the capital be there when the huge  potential payoff is not?  It will take a huge amount of increased business to make up for the loss of revenues in the U.S. market due to price controls.  Will what is left be enough to encourage drug development?

While the answer to that question is still unclear, I think it is a safe bet that true entrepreneurs will find away to adapt to the new realities of the market.  Many entrepreneurs–me included–have had to do this in the past year to survive the recession.  I have adjusted my business model completely to deal with the new realities of the legal market,  and I think it is a safe bet that many other small businesses who survive this recession will have done the same thing for their markets.  I am sure that there will be biotech entrepreneurs who can adjust their business models to the new realities of the U.S. market after the passage of this bill as well.

Having said this, there is no question that this bill is going to have an impact on the industry.  Change is coming to biotech–and it may not be the kind of change that members of the biotech industry wanted.

So, what about the carrots that got thrown into this bill for the industry?  What kind of impact will those carrots have on the industry?

Well, the tax credit may be beneficial to some companies, but my guess is that it will have a minimal impact on struggling companies who are unable to land the capital they need to survive this recession.   It seems a stretch to say that a tax credit is going to “save and create thousands of jobs across our nation” as the BIO statement claims.  A tax credit only helps if you are generating revenue to pay taxes with, and many stuggling biotechs likely need investment capital more than they need a tax credit at this point in time.

As for the biosimilars piece to the legislation, this topic has been heavily debated for some time and remains controversial.  It is legislation that is going to benefit some companies at the expense of other companies, so it is difficult to say it really will “benefit” biotech.  The legislation will benefit companies seeking to manufacture biosimilars at the expense of the brand.  The California Biotech Law Blog will explore this issue in more detail in a separate blog entry.  The bottom line is that BIO is supporting the legislation simply because it creates a pathway for the approval of biosimilars, which previously did not exist, and BIO is taking the position that this is the right decision for biotech.

All in all, the impact of this bill on biotech is one that may be debated and evaluated in the months to come.  The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to follow the developments as they unfold.

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Life Sciences Companies Spent Record Amount on Lobbying Efforts in 2007

Written by on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The Baltimore Business Journal is reporting that life sciences companies spent a record amount on lobbying efforts in 2007–some 32 percent more in 2007 than in 2006.

The Baltimore Business Journal reported:

The industry unleashed a $168 million lobbying effort last year, the largest among all sectors and 90 percent of which was dominated by three biotech and pharmaceutical trade groups and 40 global companies. . . . Among top company spenders were British-based AstraZeneca PLC, which owns Gaithersburg-based MedImmune and tallied $4.1 million in lobbying efforts, and Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, which owns Rockville-based CoGenesys and tallied $2.3 million. Amgen Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., topped the company list with a $16.3 million total contribution last year.

As the California Biotech Law Blog previously reported, BIO spent $6.6 million in lobbying efforts in 2007.

According to The Baltimore Business Journal, the industry’s investment seems to “have paid off.”

Was the investment really dollars well spent?  Well, clearly the industry has had some success with respect to delaying the passage of patent reform legislation, which was largely viewed as being more favorable to high tech companies than biotech companies.  Likewise, the lobbying efforts seem to have had some success in the SBIR area, as we previously reported in a recent blog posting.  So, the industry has definitely seen some success in Washington this past year, although that success has not been felt uniformly across the board.

There is no doubt that having a voice in Washington is taking on increasing importance for the life sciences industry, particularly in light of the lobbying efforts of the technology world.  It seems likely that the industry’s investment in lobbying will continue to grow in the near future, as the topic of health care reform continues to be a key political issue and the interests of technology and life sciences companies continue to diverge.  As I’ve suggested before, however, it is rather stunning to consider how much money that has to be invested these days in order to maintain a presence in Washington politics: $168 million is certainly not pocket change.

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Presidential Politics: More on the McCain Healthcare Reform Plan

Written by on Thursday, May 1st, 2008

McCain set out more details this week on his healthcare reform plan; while the plan contains some new features, it falls short of providing any comprehensive plan that would really resolve the country’s healthcare woes.

Marketwatch reported on McCain’s plan as follows:

McCain espouses some ideas that have broad bipartisan appeal: the use of generic drugs; incentive pay for doctors and hospitals that achieve good health results; and electronic medical records to reduce wasteful spending. But several of his proposals, such as changes in the tax treatment of employer-sponsored coverage, raise more questions than he seems prepared to answer. . . .

Tax credits that encourage the purchase of individual health insurance form the centerpiece of McCain’s health plan, and would be a dramatic departure from the way health insurance is distributed today. . . . McCain proposes to give refundable tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of coverage in exchange for eliminating tax breaks that employees and employers currently have. If you get your coverage through a job, gone would be the tax exclusion that allows your premium dollars to come out of your pretax pay. He argues that would level the playing field for people who don’t get their insurance through work while preserving choice — you could take that money and keep your employer plan or use it to buy one on the individual market. . . .McCain also wants to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. . . .

[H]e wants to create a Guaranteed Access Plan “that would reflect the best experience of the states” and function as a health insurer of last resort, kind of like the high-risk pools 30 states have set up.

While some of McCain’s plans make sense such as the idea of being able to carry insurance across borders and having a Guaranteed Access Plan, his focus on encouraging individual plans fails to address the issue of how people with minor health problems will get coverage as individuals.  The reality is that many Americans would have no other option but to go with the Guaranteed Access Plan: how exactly would the U.S. fund such a plan?  Obviously, if businesses no longer receive tax benefits for the payment of premiums, it will become increasingly difficult for such business to justify offering their employees such benefits.

Another problem: how would insurance across state lines be regulated?  I am completely in favor of the idea, as I had terrific insurance when I lived out of state and was sorry to lose it when I moved to California; however, in a multi-state model, it seems likely that a new federal entity will be needed to provide oversight over the regulation of insurance in all of the states.

All in all, while Americans should be happy to see that McCain has a health care reform plan, they may be disappointed to see that his plan has no groundbreaking solutions–certainly none that will resolve the current system’s problems.  Is this really a surprise though?  Unfortunately,  we remain a long way from electing anyone who can really  resolve all of health care’s problems.

Attached is a copy of McCain’s speech on healthcare in full.

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Presidential Politics: What is the McCain Plan for Healthcare Reform?

Written by on Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

With all the talk by the candidates of reforming healthcare this political season, it is interesting to consider the impact that a win by each candidate will have on the biotech industry.  As this race unfolds, the California Biotech Law Blog intends to follow the positions of the candidates that may have an impact on the industry. 

Robert Goldberg wrote an interesting column this week for Drugwonks and The Weekly Standard  looking at the John McCain healthcare plan, which has received little if any attention by the media.  Goldberg first addresses the plans proposed by the Democratic presidential candidates.   In contrast to McCain, who views the current Veteran’s Health Administration ("VA") as being severely broken, Goldberg explains that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton view the VA is the "starting point for the Democratic plans for universal health care."

Goldberg writes:

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to expand the VA’s electronic health care system to the rest of the country. Obama has promised to spend $50 billion on electronic health records based on the VA model. And Clinton likes to claim credit for that model, which she calls an astounding success. . . .

In fact, as a government audit discovered, the VA’s paperless system has created a huge bottleneck, losing track of 53,000 veterans.. . . according to internal VA audits, 25 percent of all vets wait more than 30 days for their first exam. Of the veterans kept waiting, 27 percent had serious service-connected disabilities, including amputations and chronic problems such as frequent panic attacks. Iraq war vets often have to wait six months for their first appointment. In some VA hospitals, vets wait 18 months for surgeries–a record worse than Canada’s or England’s national health care systems. The VA’s budget for its health care system has doubled since 2001. . . .

In contrast, Goldberg says that the McCain plan "boil[s] down to freedom of choice," explaining as follows:

McCain’s plan is based around patient-centered initiatives that already have broad support among Republicans in Congress. They include letting people buy health insurance nationally instead of only from state-regulated firms; giving people the choice of purchasing coverage through cooperatives or other organizations (churches or civic groups, for example); expanding health savings accounts; and making health insurance portable by giving people tax credits of up to $5,000 per family to buy their own coverage instead of getting it through an employer.

His chief concern is for people to take ownership of their health care. McCain likes to note that "Ronald Reagan said nobody ever washed a rental car. And that’s true in health insurance. If they’re responsible for it, then they will take more care of it." At the heart of McCain’s proposals is his effort to allow veterans, particularly soldiers returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injury and mental illness, to get care anywhere rather than just through the Veterans Health Administration (VA). . . .

It is likely that the McCain’s plan will receive additional scrutiny down the road, as healthcare is likely to continue to play a key role in the election.  However, Goldberg gives us a first glimpse of the McCain position on healthcare reform.  There is little doubt that the candidates have a very different perspective on what that reform might look like. 

But how might the McCain view affect the biotech industry?  Well, all in all, I would argue that the biotech industry would most benefit from the McCain position, since ownership of health care would likely lead patients to pursue the best available treatments, to the extent that they can afford them.  In contrast, the Obama and Clinton positions would increase health care availability for the population as a whole, but would likely limit options and treatment availability and potentially even limit the profitability of the biotech industry as a whole.

The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to look at these issues as further information about the candidates’ positions is revealed.   We welcome comments on these issues from our readers.  What do you think: how would the candidates’ positions on healthcare reform likely affect the biotech industry as a whole?

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