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Obamacare's tax on innovation

Government leaders are asking us to out-innovate, out-export and out-work our competitors in order for the United States to turn this economy around. But what if our own government was instituting policies that proved to be some of the biggest obstacles in achieving those goals?

For more than four decades, I have dedicated my life to developing novel medical technologies, such as implantable insulin pumps, rechargeable implantable pacemakers, heart stents and more. These therapies have improved the health and saved the lives of millions of patients in America and throughout the world, and spurred the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. As someone who has enjoyed success in this industry, I have tried to assist the innovators and engineers of tomorrow. In addition to working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for nearly 30 years, I established the Fischell Department of Bioengineering and the Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices at the University of Maryland.

Unfortunately, due to some misguided government policies, I am truly concerned for the scientists, engineers and innovators about to embark on their careers.

If I were beginning my career today, I would likely be unable to raise the funding or endure the delays that exist within the current regulatory environment. The amazing developments in patient care that come out of the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and other academic institutions that participate in "tech transfer" cannot be overstated. In fact President Barack Obama recently warned, in an address to the National Academy of Sciences, that the United States "can't let other countries win the race for ideas and technology of the future." This is why it is so important to repeal the recently enacted medical device excise tax.

This tax was passed as a part of health care reform and has been in place since the beginning of this year. While the noble goal is to expand access to care, in reality it is placing additional roadblocks that prevent the creation of innovative medical technologies. Tech transfer offices continue to form at major research universities across the country. These offices act as incubators for young innovators and entrepreneurs and help them secure patents, funding and a path to commercialization for ideas discovered through research. Sadly, the device tax is seriously harming the ability of young companies to secure adequate funding so that they can develop innovative ideas for the next generation of medical technology products.

A recent report revealed that first-time financings in the life sciences during the first quarter of 2013 declined to levels not seen in almost 20 years. Uncertainty caused by the device tax is an integral component of this severe investment decline. Private sector financing for ideas that are discovered during research funded by public dollars has allowed the United States to become the envy of the world in medical technology innovation. However, as the decline in recent investment levels indicate, the medical device tax, coming on top of other regulatory concerns, could be the straw that is breaking the camel's back.

Maryland has a strong and vibrant medical device community, and I am fortunate to see firsthand the amazing work being done at America's great academic institutions. The House and Senate have both passed overwhelming bipartisan measures expressing their desire to put an end to the device tax, but more work needs to be done to repeal it once and for all. Amazing advancements are being worked on, and young minds are revolutionizing patient care once again. How unfortunate it would be if these technologies don't get to the countless patients who are waiting for new therapies that can relieve their suffering and improve their quality of life. How unfortunate for America's job creators who are working tirelessly to grow their innovations into tomorrow's success stories. How tragic it would be if our own government is itself a major obstacle for the creation of the innovation that is urgently needed to expand America's proud and dynamic medical device industry — an industry that is always seeking ways to create products that significantly improve the human condition.

Dr. Robert E. Fischell is a trustee of the University of Maryland Foundation and a member of the board of visitors of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His email is mfischell@aol.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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