Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said today at a gubernatorial debate hosted by the Mass. Biotechnology Council that the Commonwealth’s so-called "gift ban" wasn’t intended to include the medical device industry and vowed that he would re-tailor the law for drug companies.
"As a practical matter," Patrick said, his administration found that the gift ban reaches beyond the drug industry and that he doesn’t believe it was the law’s original "intent" to do so.
"Aligning it with pharma is a priority of mine," Patrick said.
The Democratic governor also said that Massachusetts laws requiring the disclosure of the relationships between healthcare providers and pharmaceutical and medical device companies can be done away with, because such disclosures are now required as part of the national healthcare reform act.
"We don’t need both, in my view," Patrick said.
Patrick was responding to a question from Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) pharmaceutical products group counsel Robert Anderson on whether any of the candidates would consider repealing the gift ban altogether.
Independent candidate Timothy Cahill, the Bay State’s Treasury secretary, answered the question more directly, saying that he would not have signed the gift ban into law and and adding that it treats representatives from the pharmaceutical and device industries as criminals.
Republican candidate Charles Baker used the question as a spring-board for an attack on the governor.
"This is a leadership issue," Baker said. "If the governor had been willing to step up and step out and make it happen, it might have been repealed."
Baker, who said the law "is a terrible drag on [the industry’s] ability to grow and expand here" also took his 30-second allotment to point out that the gift ban requires the industry to bar Massachusetts doctors from drinking refreshments at industry-sponsored events, a stipulation that many life science industry leaders have decried as "silly.”
All of the candidates came out in support of the $1 billion Mass. Life Science Investment Act and said it’s been a success.
"I don’t know if we can afford to continue the investment" in the life science center, Cahill told MassDevice after the debate. "It was passed during a time of high employment, record revenues in state government.
"If it creates jobs," he added, "I’m all for it. If it’s not creating jobs, then we have to re-allocate the money to places where we can create jobs, or more importantly bring taxes down."
At a MassBIO meeting in January, Patrick vigorously denied that his then-proposed cuts to the life sciences center reflected anything other than fiscal necessity. His budget called for a temporary cut of $5 million to the center’s tax credit initiatives, bringing the total to $20 million for 2011, and another cut to the center’s investment fund. Asked whether the cuts reflected any doubts about the center’s mission, Patrick said, “Absolutely not.”
“It reflects the reality of the economic climate,” Patrick told MassDevice at the January meeting. “We all have to share in the sacrifice and trim the sails a little.”
The life science legislation is comprised of four funding pools, most consisting of tax breaks for infrastructure improvements and capital spending. There’s also a $25 million annual discretionary fund the center uses to make direct investments in small and mid-sized companies in the medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors. Last year, amid an unprecedented economic crisis, the investment fund was cut 40 percent, to $15 million. Patrick further cut that investment fund, to $10 million, in last year’s budget and kept the line item at the same level for 2011, meaning the investment pool has never been fully funded.