Obamacare Will Affect Research

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Barack Obama's health care reform law contains key provisions that will impact US science funding in the years to come.

Jun 29, 2012
Bob Grant

US Supreme CourtWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, ©JAREK TUSZYNSKI

In an historic moment, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 yesterday (June 28) to uphold President Barack Obama's health care reform law—colloquially known as the Affordable Care Act—by declaring the law's so-called "individual mandate," which levies a tax or fine if individual citizens fail to carry health insurance, constitutionally valid. Though it is the general public that will feel the main impact of the health care law, the legislation also includes key provisions, protected by today's ruling, that benefit biomedical research.

"With this ruling, what we have is the turning of a page and a new chapter," said Mary Wooley, CEO of science advocacy group Research!America. "It is time to be talking about research and innovation as a major driver in health care."

The key provisions that have a bearing on the lives and work of biomedical researchers include the establishment of a streamlined US Food and Drug Administration pathway for the approval of generic versions of protein-based drugs, so-called biosimilars; the creation of a translational research initiative at the National Institutes of Health called the Cures Acceleration Network; the launch of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which would require pharmaceutical and device makers to disclose all payments greater than $10 to physicians, and a push to increase funding for comparative effectiveness research.

Had the individual mandate been struck down by the court, these other parts of the law would have likely fallen to the wayside. "It would have been a little different because we would have had a little more of a sense of going back and starting over," noted Wooley. "It may be that we can move more quickly to prioritize research and innovation now."

Meanwhile, two powerful trade organizations representing the biotech and pharmaceutical industries reacted to the Court's ruling more lukewarmly, restating that they'll fight the health care law's establishment of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which will have the power to make changes to the Medicare program without the need for an act of Congress, as was previously required.

Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said that his group supports the broad goals of the legislation, but opposes the creation of the IPAB. "BIO will continue to work with relevant federal and state agencies to ensure implementation of the law in a manner that helps enable the US biotech community’s continued development of lifesaving cures and other medical breakthroughs while expanding patient access to these critical cures, medicines and innovations," he said in a statement. "In addition, BIO will continue to support efforts to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which threatens patient access to needed cures and medical breakthroughs."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) echoed those sentiments. "We respect the Court’s decision and recognize that there will be ongoing policy discussions about the future of health care in America, and about the impact of today’s decision on the health care law. We will work with Congress and the Administration on a bipartisan basis to address these important issues and will continue to advocate for an environment that fosters medical innovation and access to new medicines," said PhRMA President and CEO John J. Castellani in a statement. "We will also continue to work for necessary changes to the Affordable Care Act, such as the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).”