WASHINGTON — Joe Biden was on friendly turf when he appeared in January 2018 at a San Francisco health care conference to tout the work of his Biden Cancer Initiative, the nonprofit that has been his defining venture since leaving the Obama White House more than two years ago.
The former vice president first thanked his physician son-in-law, Dr. Howard Krein, a board member of the Biden nonprofit and a top executive of the health care tech company that hosted the event. Next, Biden called out to “one of my closest friends” in the audience, Joe Kiani, a medical device firm mogul and longtime donor.
“Imagine,” Biden told his standing-room-only crowd, “what we can do together.”
Since leaving office, Biden has made it his mission to mobilize the health care industry to fight cancer as a tribute to his son Beau, who succumbed to the disease in 2015. Biden enlisted family, friends and donors and has promoted his crusade at health care industry events. And drug companies, hospitals, insurers, medical associations and charities have pledged millions to the cause. In its first two years, the Biden Cancer Initiative has listed 58 separate collaborations joined by more than 200 health care companies and other groups.
Now that Biden is running for president those relationships highlight his reliance on a powerful industry with much at stake in the outcome of the 2020 race. Many of the organizations he’s celebrated — including some tied to the men Biden mentioned in the 2018 speech — have financial or regulatory interests before the federal government. A Biden administration would inevitably have to reckon with their efforts to influence its policies, ethics experts say.
The nonprofit’s reliance on health care industry partners poses concerns about whether a “Biden administration would give favorable treatment for anyone who supported his foundation in the past,” said Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University.
At a campaign stop last week in Ottumwa, Iowa, Biden made clear his aim to mount a government-run cancer-fighting effort. “I promise you, if I’m elected president, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes in America is we’re going to cure cancer,” he said.
Biden’s campaign said his nonprofit’s operations would not be incorporated into a Biden administration cancer-fighting effort.