Starting a Company Is Hard. Good Health Insurance Makes It Easier.


Xconomy Boston — 

Usually late August is fairly laid-back, but this year the debate over how states are implementing the federal Affordable Care Act seems to get louder by the day.

Except here in Massachusetts, where it’s pretty quiet. Why? Because it’s already been addressed here. I must admit, I don’t remember there being very much angst at the time the Massachusetts healthcare initiative was implemented in 2006. I could be wrong, and I’m sure there were some bumps in the road (after all, it was a startup), but what I can say is that at seven years old, the Massachusetts Health Connector (MHC) seems to be humming along. But beyond being functioning as it’s supposed to, I think MHC fundamentally changes the equation for start-ups.

I think it makes it easier.

It makes it easier to take the risk that goes with starting a new company when you know that you will still have access to decent healthcare no matter what, even if the company fails or you lose your job. It makes it easier to take the time you need to nurture your ideas into a company without being beholden to an artificial timeline of your healthcare coverage running out.

I’m not an economist, or a politician, or an insurance executive; I’m an entrepreneur. I don’t have economic analyses or focus groups or cost comparisons to show you as others do, but I do have the proverbial “N of 1”: my own experience.

For me, having access to healthcare means I can continue to focus on being an entrepreneur rather than having to give it up and go get a job with an existing company once my continuing health insurance from my previous job (COBRA) runs out.

I’ve been in the biotechnology industry for more than 20 years, and I hope to continue for another 20 or more. I’ve had the privilege of working on a number of highly creative, rule-breaking drugs and technologies, and I want to continue doing that.

Last year, Avila Therapeutics, the company I led, was acquired, which was both great and bittersweet. Great because the acquiring company (Celgene) is talented and committed, and the science, products and people continue to thrive as part of that organization. Bittersweet because it meant that I would hand over the reins and move on.

That’s not a bad thing. This kind of acquisition, diaspora, and renewal is healthy and exciting. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do next, and my focus is on neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease in particular. This is a very tough area scientifically, and many people think it’s somewhat naïve and crazy to start a company focused on that, but everyone agrees on how profound the need is.

My COBRA health insurance benefits would have lasted for a maximum of 18 months following Celgene’s acquisition of Avila. In June I knew that I was just over a year into my COBRA clock, and I was going to have to figure out what to do about healthcare coverage fairly soon. I had made progress in my investigations on Alzheimer’s and creating a new company, but I could tell this was going to take a while. The COBRA clock wasn’t calibrated to this timeline.

I was starting to get anxious about this, because … Next Page »

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One response to “Starting a Company Is Hard. Good Health Insurance Makes It Easier.”

  1. Bananas21 says:

    Great article. Healthcare is such a huge part of the American economy – in a bad way. This article is another example of exactly how our wacky healthcare system forces us to make decisions that are bad for us and, really, bad for the economy as a whole.

    Props to Massachussets for creating a good solution with a good implementation.