Gov. Rick Scott is toying with Florida's economy by sending mixed messages about the state's commitment to partner in high-tech medicine. In a newly disclosed letter to three state-supported cancer research facilities including H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Scott said the centers could not make money off their brand names if they want to continue to receive state funds. It was another thoughtless edict from a governor who seems unable to make the transition from corporate CEO, and it raises troubling implications for jobs, medical research and the economic future of Tampa Bay and the state.
In a letter dated May 10, Scott warned Moffitt, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami and the Shands Cancer Hospital in Gainesville that they "may not franchise their name or brand to other private entities" and "may not receive royalties or other remuneration from other entities" in exchange for the use of their name or brand. Future eligibility to receive state money, Scott wrote, "will be contingent on compliance with these terms."
The governor's spokesman said the goal was to establish a statewide policy for funding the cancer research centers. If that is the case, Scott has a funny way of building consensus. He has laid out the penalties for violating the policy even before establishing a working group on the issue. He has sent a hands-off warning to the biomedical industry just as corporate players are putting up millions for new public-private partnerships. He has soured the climate for these state-supported institutions to attract the most talented researchers. And he has dampened prospects for turning Florida into a leading destination for specialized care, denying residents treatment and the economy jobs. His punitive approach almost guarantees an arms race that forces individual providers to go off on their own, creating the very piecemeal strategy toward biomedicine he purportedly wants to avoid.
There is nothing wrong with a statewide approach to cancer care and treatment. But Scott's letter goes further by drawing a line against the operational and marketing ventures that are fast becoming the dominant model in the health care industry. His motives would be harder to question if the former CEO of a for-profit hospital chain had not repeatedly complained about tax support for public hospitals. But these research centers — like the state's safety net hospitals — serve a critical public purpose. And the governor's policy is completely at odds with the approach he has taken in calling for other public sectors of the economy — schools, seaports, airports and the like — to partner with the private sector.
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The state needs to continue to build its biomedical research centers and align itself to fully capitalize on breakthroughs in commercial and personalized medicine. It is artificial to build a wall between academia and industry when the two working hand in hand benefits the whole state. The governor needs to communicate that vision and work quickly to dispel concerns that Florida under his direction is moving the other way.