The United States Can’t Afford to Cede Global Leadership on Medtech Innovation

Medical devices can detect deadly diseases, allow a patient to walk again or even extend a patient’s life. This isn’t hyperbole; for decades, the United States has led the world in the creation and development of these life-improving and, often, life-saving medical technologies which greatly benefit American patients, our health care system and the U.S. economy.

What’s more, other countries rely on American research and development for new treatments of their own. With so much at stake, this leadership position is one worth defending, but we risk ceding ground to countries like China if we stop prioritizing the investment that makes our innovation ecosystem possible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only emphasized the need for a strong American medtech presence so that we can quickly respond to unprecedented public health emergencies. But medtech isn’t just lifesaving during a pandemic. From 1980 to 2017, five years were added to the U.S. life expectancy thanks to advancements in medical technology. We’ve seen that medtech innovation has led to a 36 percent decrease in heart disease mortality rates, a 38 percent decrease in stroke deaths and a 24 percent decrease in cancer deaths.

For those who do get sick, our industry has developed more affordable and more efficient treatments. Since 1980, there has been a 60 percent decrease in the number of patient-days spent in hospitals thanks to new medical technologies. Procedures that were once invasive, presented greater risk and required long hospital stays or recovery times have been transformed — allowing patients to get the treatments they need and get back to their lives.

The innovation that has made these advances possible is no accident. It is a direct result of the billions of dollars that the private sector invests in research & development each year. The next groundbreaking innovation is always within reach, but it can take years to get there. We cannot afford for those ideas to dissipate just because the funding isn’t there. It’s a simple equation — if medtech companies in America spend less on critical research and development, then we should be ready to get less in return. And it will be patients who suffer most. The market needs to be incentivized to fund and conduct the R&D that makes these advancements possible, or we risk being outpaced – quickly.

Countries such as China, India and Brazil have historically focused more on low-cost manufacturing rather than innovation. Now, especially in the wake of a global pandemic, they are starting to prioritize innovation in the medical device sector as they look to enhance control of supply chains and make technological breakthroughs of their own. They are reforming their regulatory and tax policies and offering incentives to boost private investment in new, more effective and affordable treatments.

At this critical moment, the last thing the United States should do is put up barriers to innovation. For instance, the tax increases being considered by Congress threaten to stifle the advances that have protected patients here at home and made us a powerhouse the world over. Higher corporate taxes jeopardize the R&D investment that leads to breakthrough technologies and diagnostics, which keeps patients from accessing treatments that we know save and improve lives. And as our economy is still reeling from the 2020 recession, it will not just hinder the biggest players – it will hurt the small- and mid-sized manufacturers that account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. medtech industry and the millions of Americans the industry employs.

COVID-19 has shown us that we cannot afford to be caught flat-footed in responding to public health emergencies. It is clear that China and others are taking new and serious steps to spur technological innovation within their borders. If we are to remain a global leader, we need to pick up our pace, not pass the baton. Let’s not allow shortsighted tax policy changes in Washington to hurt the American health care system – and those who depend on it – for years to come.


Scott Whitaker is president and CEO of AdvaMed, the world’s largest medical technology association, whose members make the medical devices, diagnostic products and health information systems that are transforming health care through earlier disease detection, less invasive procedures and more effective treatments, to help people live longer, healthier lives.

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