Krein’s firm has described him as an adviser to the White House on its Cancer Moonshot initiative. The Biden campaign did not respond to questions about Krein’s role in the initiative.
“It does raise questions of nepotism,” said Roy Poses, president of the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine and a professor of medicine at Brown University. “If you have access to people within the administration, it can help you with regulatory issues and policy issues.”
While political access is no substitute for expertise, according to veteran health care investor Pete McNerney, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, such high-profile connections can provide an edge in fundraising and brand-building. “It could help them raise some money,” McNerney said, “add some sort of panache to the name.”
The firm’s marketing has played up its closeness to Biden. In October 2016, Biden promoted the administration’s moonshot in remarks at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Krein’s brother appeared onstage before Biden to discuss health care innovation. StartUp Health used the occasion to announce it was launching 10 “health moonshots” of its own — private investment initiatives — including a cancer moonshot.
The company issued a release to mark the event, writing, “Today, StartUp Health, its global army of Health Transformers, and Vice President of the United States Joe Biden kicked off the 14th annual Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit, sharing an urgent message with nearly 2,000 health leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs: the time is now to organize, break down silos, and adopt a ‘Health Transformer Mindset’ to speed up progress in solving big health challenges like ending cancer, ensuring access to care, and improving the wellbeing of people worldwide.”
Three months later, during the final days of the Obama administration, Biden spoke at StartUp Health’s annual festival in San Francisco.
Krein has remained affiliated with his father-in-law’s public health care work in the years since the former vice president left office, joining the board of the nonprofit Biden Cancer Initiative in 2017.
Since Biden announced his presidential run last spring, Krein’s ties to his father-in-law have drawn greater scrutiny. A June 2019 Associated Press investigation of influence concerns posed by Biden’s cancer nonprofit, which shuttered soon after, noted Krein’s dual roles as a board member and venture investor.
Conservative journalist Peter Schweizer includes a section on StartUp Health’s access to the government during the Obama years in his 2020 book, “Profiles in Corruption,” in which he argues that Biden and his relatives used the trappings of his office to promote their private ventures.
“Biden family members see that Joe’s vested public power is convenient for the creation of business opportunities for personal wealth,” Schweizer writes.
Biden campaign spokesperson Mike Gwin described Schweizer’s coverage of StartUp Health as “baseless accusations and innuendo.”
Josh Kushner, brother of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, Jared Kushner, has faced similar scrutiny for the potential conflicts posed by his venture firm, Thrive Capital. Some of that scrutiny focused on Oscar Health, an insurance company co-founded by Josh Kushner and backed by Thrive, which benefited from Obamacare and faced risk from Trump’s efforts to repeal the law.
In March, as Jared Kushner led the Trump’s administration’s coronavirus task force, Oscar Health built a website that directed users to nearby coronavirus testing sites at the behest of the federal government, a project that was quickly scrapped, according to an investigation by The Atlantic.
StartUp Health’s high-profile connections, meanwhile, have continued to play a role in its business in recent years, with Biden’s wife, Jill, speaking at its annual conference, and Chopra appearing as a guest on the company’s podcast.
Park, who succeeded Chopra as the U.S. CTO, went on to serve on the board of the Biden Cancer Initiative alongside Krein. A successful entrepreneur, Park had founded Athenahealth, a health care technology company, with George W. Bush’s first cousin, Jonathan Bush, before entering the Obama administration.
After leaving the administration, Park co-founded Devoted Health, a company that administers Medicare plans. StartUp Health is among the company’s investors.
Though Park has donated to Biden’s campaign, Baer said he has no intention of returning to government in a Biden administration.