Unlike many of my colleagues who got MDs or MBAs, my graduate school education was focused on political science–the study of political behavior to be exact. I was a good portion of the way through a PhD program in this field when I started working in industry (high tech marketing at the time, not yet healthcare). I was managing to balance the study of politics and the high tech marketing roles pretty decently, or so I thought until my graduate school advisor gave me an ultimatum: quit the job and spend full time in the political science department researching and teaching or quit the program.
I remember thinking at the time that my odds of working in government were pretty low (too blunt) and that I wasn’t cut out for a life of public policy-making (too impatient), so I decided to leave the study of government and political behavior behind and dive full-time into the life of the private sector. That was it, I figured: political life over, business life here I come.
What a difference a couple of decades makes.
This week I attended two separate healthcare conferences. The first was the Wilson Sonsini Medical Device Conference, an annual event that brings together medical device entrepreneurs, investors and everyone else in their ecosystem. The second was the annual America’s Health Insurance Plans Institute (aka AHIP), which convenes thousands of health insurance executives and the vendors and investors who interact with them. While the theoretical focus of these two conferences and the attendees were completely different (except for me, I guess), there were two stunningly obvious commonalities.
First commonality: both conferences were attended by hundreds upon thousands of middle-aged white men and approximately 8 women. A (male) friend of mine cautioned me that I had better sneak out of the medical device lunch early if I was going to use the bathroom as there was going to be a huge line. I almost died laughing. These two conferences were probably the only mass gatherings in SF this week where there was decidedly no line for the ladies’ room.
Second commonality: the discourse at both conferences was dominated by discussions about politics and the impact of government on healthcare. Everywhere you turned there were sessions on the impact of health reform on healthcare enterprises, the increasing influence of the FDA, the impact of the national economy on reimbursement and regulatory initiatives and even how the impending elections might impact the healthcare environment.
The AHIP conference featured both Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty as keynote speakers (he, the former Governor of Minnesota who was not a professional wrestler). To cap it off, the closing AHIP speakers were James Carville and Mary Matalin, the Itchy and Scratchy of presidential politics.
No actual politicians at the Wilson Sonsini conference, but one of the key sessions, entitled, “Are FDA Policies Affecting U.S. Competitiveness,” featured several medical device executives who have made it their business to become semi-professional lobbyists on behalf of their industry. They spoke at length about their conversations with legislators and their testimony before Congress, all of it focused on how government initiatives and politically-motivated behavior are damaging the medical device industry in a way that imperils America’s ability to maintain its leadership in this field.
It is pretty clear that there can no longer be a meaningful conversation about the healthcare industry without a discussion of the political environment and vice versa. The government already pays for nearly half of all U.S. healthcare and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka health reform law) is having an earth-shaking impact on the healthcare field at every level.
So life has come full circle. I left a life of politics for a life of business only to find myself right back where I started. The line between the private healthcare industry and the world of public policy seems to have completely disappeared. In the parlance of Jerry McGuire, they now complete each other.
Life is full of irony. Sometimes you close one door only to find out it actually revolves.