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Obamacare tax (still) isn't killing medical device startups

January 18, 2013: 3:54 PM ET

healthcareVC investment in medical device companies climbs in Q4.

FORTUNE -- Are venture capitalists abandoning medical device startups because Obamacare now requires such companies to pay a 2.3% excise tax on gross sales?

This was a question I first addressed last month, following a Fox Business story that made such an argument. In short: I found it to be bunk.

Fox Business based its piece on a single quarter of MoneyTree deal data, without providing broader data context or speaking to any actual venture capitalists. Instead, the quotes came from an executive with privately-held Cook Medical (which has never raised venture capital), and from other medical device company executives whose comments Cook Medical had solicited. In other words, it was lobbying via a complicit journalist.

I bring this all up because MoneyTree today released fourth-quarter VC deal data, including for the medical device sector. It shows that venture disbursements to U.S. medical device companies climbed by 32% between Q3 and Q4 2012, from $440 million to $581 million.

For context, overall venture capital investment (for all sectors) fell by 3% in Q4. For more context, U.S. medical device companies raised $502 million and $521 million in Q4 2010 and Q4 2011, respectively.

U.S.-based medical device companies raised a total of $2.44 billion. This compares to an average annual total of $2.6 billion over the past decade. So 2012 was a down year, but not extraordinarily so. Moreover, VCs invested more into medical device companies last year than in 2010 and in every single year between 1995 and 2005 (some of which were record-setting years for the broader VC market). And there is still that pesky $2.8 billion figure for 2011, when Obamacare already was law.

So I asked for comment from John Eckberg, a Cook Group spokesman who had been quite displeased with my original piece. Here was his reply:

"Sure, even though you are lazy, disingenuous, unfair and a bully journalist who has no business working for a magazine like Fortune let alone a mid-sized or major daily newspaper. A one quarter blip does not reverse a long-term trend - angel investors continue to flee a sector that includes a top-line tax that translates into a one-year tax increase of 43% or more for many U.S. companies. Ask the hundreds who received layoff notices this week at Zimmer Spine in Austin, Texas, and Getinge Group in San Antonio, Texas or ask the 141 getting lay-off notices at Hologic in Indianapolis, IN, what they think about the state of venture capital vis-a-vis a new tax that raises the tax bill for most U.S. companies to well over 50% of earnings."

Two notes on his reply: (1) I asked Eckberg to provide data for angel investment in the sector, and he was unable to do so. (2) The three companies he mentions are all publicly-traded, or subsidiaries of publicly-traded companies. Not sure what any of that has to do with new company formation, unless the argument is that medical device companies are under so much burden that VCs are reducing their investments in the sector. And, if that's the argument, then the Q4 deal numbers don't back it up.

To be clear, I'm not taking a position on whether or not the excise tax is good policy. I'm simply saying that it isn't affecting venture capital decision-making.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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