In the Meantime ...
Life is what happens in the meantime. Think about it. Life goes on while you “seem” to be standing by, waiting for other things to happen. You’ll hear people say things such as: “I’m looking for a house to buy, but I’m renting in the meantime.” It’s as if nothing is important until the final goal is accomplished. A lot happens, however, in the space in between—usually most of the important stuff, the learning, growing and smaller goals that lead to your ultimate objective.
I have gotten swept up by that feeling a lot recently, in particular about financial markets and politics, and—more importantly—their direct impact on the medical device sector. It feels like we have been doing a lot of waiting as an industry (along with many others)—waiting for the market to turn around, waiting for credit markets to loosen up, waiting for a yea or nay vote on healthcare and the impact that will have on pricing, access, markets, innovation, etc. Man, all this waiting—when you stop a moment to dwell—will make you tired.
It’s no wonder. We began 2009 with a new president and Democratic majority in Congress prepared to tackle the issue of healthcare. Regardless of which side of this issue you fall on, we were certain the final result was going to be a serious change for medical device and other healthcare-related business. But, in the meantime, we waited (albeit nervously as a proposed tax on the device industry of anywhere from $40 billion to $20 billion over the course of 10 years was included in different versions of healthcare bills). In that time we’ve done a lot of listening, arguing and debating. The current healthcare debate and the wrangling of the past year seemed to be approaching some much-needed closure, until it took a recent sharp turn—to the right.
On Jan. 19, voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected Scott Brown to be their U.S. senator, filling the seat left by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. It’s the first time in almost 40 years that there’s been a Republican senator from the Bay State. This ends the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, along with their hopes of swift passage of a healthcare bill this winter. So it seems that things will slow down for the moment—perhaps not a bad thing—as lawmakers debate where to go next. After all, most presidents haven’t had such a majority and have had to find a way to govern and advance policy. It’s unclear how reform legislation and the medical device tax will be impacted by the current game of musical chairs on Capitol Hill. So, you guessed it, we’re in for more waiting. But, if it means the tax gets dropped, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a wait most medical device executives won’t mind.
Overall, the industry—though cautious—remains optimistic. Economic indicators are moving up slowly, and we seem to be pulling out of recession (see Financial News on page 26). It’s been a tough road, but we often find strength during life’s toughest challenges. In the end, we’re not “just waiting.” Through all this uncertainty, companies continue to find new ways to innovate, to do business better, reduce costs and differentiate themselves and their products in order to stay competitive and build a better mousetrap. Of course, all of this is easier said than done. But what’s the alternative? In the end, what’s learned while companies are trying to cope (yes, in the meantime) can make them leaner and more competitive in the long run.
We’ve all had a bit of a wake up call. Perhaps if we emerge stronger and better prepared on the other end, the alarm may have been worth it. We did not seek, nor did we invite some of our current challenges. But the true measure of our success and effectiveness as an industry is how we meet, beat and ultimately learn from them.
There’s a lot to do in the meantime.