The Threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to Public Health – Part 2

“The Threat of the TPP to Public Health – Part 2” … view http://www.worldviewopinion.net/tpp/ for Part One. Also appearing in the Rogue Valley Community Press http://rvcommunitypress.com/2013/09/the-threat-of-the-tpp-to-public-health/

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secret agreement currently being negotiated between the US Administration and eleven other Pacific Rim nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and (just recently) Japan, and with the Agreement’s provisions being crafted with the “help” of more than 600 corporate lobbyists.

The TPP agreement contains 29 chapters, but only 4 or 5 chapters directly refer to trade, with the remainder extending the power and authority of private corporations over governments and state-owned enterprises.  These chapters broaden corporate authority by extending patents and trademarks, reducing financial regulations including “investment barriers”, restricting food safety and GMO labeling standards, reducing environmental regulations, restricting the power of unions to strike, banning of  “Buy America” (and similar) policies, eliminating any requirement for firms to meet prevailing wages, and restricting the ability of governments or “state-owned enterprises” to provide medical care for their populations.

Part 1 of this article, published last month, discussed the adverse effects of extending the the terms of drug and medical device patents to 20 years, permitting the practice of “evergreening” to extend the patents’ terms and reduce the availability of generic drugs, of restricting drug formularies, and other means to discourage the availability of generics to keep prices high.

Part 2 below examines how the TPP aims to drive up the profits of private healthcare providers by restricting the ability of public institutions and governmental agencies to provide low-cost affordable medical care to its populations.

One issue corporate lobbyists are concerned over is that public healthcare entities have “unfair advantages” over private industry. These advantages include government subsidies, preferred tax status, low finance rates, and access to capital.  An analogous argument of US banks is that employee-owned credit unions have lower taxes and other unfair advantages compared with private banks, and are currently actively seeking federal legislation to “level the playing field”.  Countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, in particular, provide their populace with healthcare via state-owned enterprises fully or partially owned by government, and Japan provides its people a single payer healthcare system nationwide.  The draft TPP provisions are believed to require healthcare institutions to disclose any government advantages they receive and the signatory governments to give the same advantages to corporations.  The TPP text outline requires that governments which provide advantages to its public institutions over the private facilities be sanctioned and punished by increasing tariffs, and specifically allows pharmaceutical corporations and others to challenge through its quasi judicial system the legitimacy of any reimbursement decisions made by public health systems.

A leaked section of the TPP, “Annex on Transparency and Procedural Fairness for Healthcare Technologies” (http://info.publicintelligence.net/TPP-Transparency.pdf) reveals the conflict between private medical industries striving to keep their prices high versus the public health systems that are concerned primarily with controlling the healthcare costs of their populations.  The corporate lobbyists drafting the TPP provisions do not consider the extension of patent protections on drugs and medical equipment to keep prices high to be unfair, but do consider the ability of public systems to negotiate lower drug prices with manufacturers to be an unfair advantage granted by the government.  These provisions, already law in much of the US healthcare system, including Medicare and MedicAid, could be extended to the military’s Tricare and the Veterans Health Administration systems (now exempted), in addition to those of all signatory nations.

Medical clinics in the US employ far more clerks and administrators than doctors or nurses compared with nations in the rest of the developed world.  The US health system, due to thousands of different health insurance plans, each with different rules, wastes at least a third of its health dollars on this unnecessary bureaucracy.  High prices in the private health sector drive up prices in the public health sector too, since Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices.  This is the system that serves as the model for provisions in the TPP, since it enormously benefits the medical and private insurance industries whose lobbyists are now putting the final touches on the Agreement’s provisions.

The state of Oregon is at the beginning of a renewed attempt to bring universal healthcare to all its citizens, with the state legislature having recently passed a bill, HB 3260, (http://www.leg.state.or.us/13reg/measpdf/hb3200.dir/hb3260.intro.pdf) which requires a study to be prepared for the 2014 session comparing the costs and benefits of alternative healthcare approaches, including the current federal approach, and a “single payer” approach, which essentially removes private healthcare insurers from the existing market, plus two other alternatives.  The legislature would then use the study to help craft and finance legislation to reform the healthcare system in the state.

A draft version of an Oregon Universal Healthcare bill, HB 2922, has already been introduced into the legislature: (http://www.leg.state.or.us/13reg/measures/hb2900.dir/hb2922.intro.html).  However, if the US Congress approves the TPP there is little chance that this measure or anything similar could ever be considered or be referred to the citizens of Oregon, since the intent of the legislation is contrary to the intent of the TPP, which is to inhibit public laws which would threaten the profits of private health insurers and the large corporate interests, in general.

Were the state to approve healthcare legislation deemed to threaten private industry profits it could be blocked immediately by an industry-adjudicated international trade panel which could then impose financial penalties on the state to compensate the corporations for lost “potential” profits.  The nation of Mexico recently found itself on the losing side of an analogous NAFTA decision, in which it was ordered to pay over $170 million dollars to Cargill, Archer-Daniels, and Corn Products Int’l., giant agri-business firms, because it tried to restrict the amount of high fructose corn syrup imported into the country.  For details, see: http://www.occupy.com/article/two-secret-trade-agreements-threaten-undo-our-last-shreds-food-safety.

Next month “The Threat of the TPP to Public Health – Part 3” will summarize the current status of the TPP and present some tactics that concerned citizens can engage in to try to influence and deter our federal representatives from rushing this awful agreement into effect via proposed Nixon-era “Fast-Track” legislation.

ttp fast track

Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (OFTC) works in coalition with labor, environmental and human rights organizations across the state to fight for fair trade policies. If you would like your organization to join in the effort to defeat the TPP they will do a presentation to your board or steering committee. Contact Ivend Holen at idholen@ccountry.net or (541) 779-5392.