Last Tuesday I attended the California Healthcare Policy Forum down at Stanford. It was attended by a lot of representatives of biotech and pharmaceutical companies as well as policy people from CA government.
The big buzz at the conference was about the passage of Prop. 71—the $3 billion in bonds the taxpayers of California are going to issue to fund stem cell research. When the Prop 71 discussion panel was on, all the local media were there. Since the event seemingly runs against the tide of the 2004 election there was a bit of the feeling of being in The Republic of California. But what the situation really means to these people is that California has declared itself the center of biotechnology in the US if not the world. Where else has the citizenry voted on a controversial life science issue, approved it, and backed it up with money? The $300 million in research is expected to be a powerful magnet (some say gold rush) of talent and companies to the state. Hopefully some important breakthroughs in medicine will come from this, but the organizers also pointed out that the average salary of biotechnology workers is $18,000 per annum above the state’s average wage. There are already 230,000 jobs in biotech and this is expected to grow significantly.
Other issues revolved around healthcare system costs and the costs of new drugs. Leonard Schaefer, CEO of WellPoint (think the whole Blue Cross system), said demand for coverage is being driven by a constantly evolving ideas about what constitutes a medical need (this time, think Viagra or alcoholism rehab). He said he can say for sure from a payer’s perspective Americans want three things: 1) to look good; 2) to feel good; 3) to live forever. He wasn’t joking. He also said recent studies show that, across the country, there are big differences in how much is spent to treat a variety of ailments. But…there is no correlation between the money spent and the benefits gained. In other words, there is evidence that people are not getting their money’s worth from a lot of treatment. He said when the public finds that out they’re going to raise hell.