Bill Walton might be the medical device industry’s best customer.
The 59-year-old former NBA player and basketball legend has had 36 orthopedic procedures, starting with his first surgery at 13 years old.
But it was a spinal fusion surgery in 2009, known as a minimally disruptive XLIF procedure, that turned his life around and made him an evangelist both for San Diego, Calif.-based NuVasive Inc. (NSDQ:NUVA) and the med-tech industry in general.
Walton, who’s a paid spokesman for NuVasive’s "Better Way Back" program, was the keynote speaker at the Medical Device Manufacturers Assn.’s annual meeting, which began today in Washington, D.C.
In a rousing speech, Walton related his personal struggles with debilitating back pain – which left him contemplating suicide – to those facing the industry, including the medical device excise tax, regulatory uncertainties at the FDA and reimbursement issues with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The device industry is hoping Walton’s impact will be even stronger on Capitol Hill, where he headed after the MDMA address along with NuVasive CEO Alex Lukianov. There the basketball legend will have no trouble sticking out (he’s more than 7 feet tall) or communicating his passion to the industry. Anyone who’s ever watched Walton call an NBA game knows he has no problem filibustering.
Walton’s visit is part of a day-long lobbying mission by MDMA, which is sending medical device executives to lobby Congress on the industry’s behalf.
The association will send over about 200 of its delegates to lobby their congressional representatives in what is a busy week for med-tech inside the Beltway. Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the FDA user fee bill; today the House Ways and Means Committee meeting passed its markup of Rep. Erik Paulsen’s (R-Minn.) medical device tax repeal bill.
"Last year I came up here and spoke to you about the perfect storm the industry faces," Hobbs told the group. "In 2012 we’ve laid the groundwork to avoid that perfect storm."
However, the upbeat message didn’t last. Hobbs later said the funding environment for medical device startups is as bad as he’s ever seen.
"Never in my 38 years in the industry have I seen a more challenging environment for raising capital," he said.