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Health & Medicine

TPP Turns Healthcare into Wealthcare

— May 8, 2015
Money bottlesImage courtesy of LifeWorld


Welcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, hailed as the best piece of secret policy making since Moses’ conversation on a mountaintop. This week, I’m focusing on how the TPP turns healthcare into wealthcare. You should be afraid, very afraid. It’s profits before people (again!) with Big Pharma coming out the winner and we, the people getting the short end of the stick.

The TPP undeniably stacks the deck in favor of business and, in this case, Big Pharma. “Free” trade? Nope. It’s an illusion; this system is fixed in favor of corporate interests. As it stands from what’s been leaked to the public, the changes to intellectual property law will precipitate an increase in healthcare costs through extending the duration of patent coverage and making it difficult to get affordable generics to the market.

As explained last week, that’s the “evergreening” process, whereby Big Pharma can change one inactive ingredient and re-patent the medication, effectively prohibiting generics. This is further compounded by ending the sharing of clinical trial data, making smaller manufacturers responsible to repeat expensive research.

The TPP also allows Big Pharma to challenge already agreed upon reimbursement amounts paid by health systems such as Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE and the VA. Drug manufacturers will be able to factor in marketing costs, not just R&D and production costs, thus raising reimbursement levels.

Here is the piece that is my favorite. The TPP permits the patenting of previously unpatentable things such as surgical procedures, treatments, diagnostic tests and plants and animals. Basically, if Big Pharma can make a buck off of it, the TPP will let them patent it. Forget keeping medical costs down; this agreement will allow them to skyrocket.

Need surgery X? Great, we can do that for you but it costs twice as much because we need to pay licensing fees to the patent holders.

The almighty bottom line becomes the driver for public health as opposed to the public’s needs. If there’s no money in it (like Ebola) Big Pharma doesn’t consider it a worthy expenditure of resources. Under the TPP, if Big Pharma has the answer to the problem but chooses to play its cards close to its vest, no one can do anything about it. The much-needed information stays with Big Pharma, protected by the TPP. In the meantime, real people suffer.

I remember fighting with Medicare and Medicaid for my mother. She needed certain treatments for cancer and they were expensive. The insurance didn’t want to cover them, but finally consented after her oncologist made them aware that the treatments were medically necessary. That was almost twelve years ago. I shudder to think what the costs are today and what they will be if the TPP passes. How many people will be denied lifesaving treatment so Big Pharma can get richer?

I’m not saying that Big Pharma shouldn’t recoup its expenses. Research and development, as well as production, is very expensive, especially in that industry. However, tossing the marketing budget into the recoupment pot is unfair and double dipping. There’s no reason that companies should be allow to recoup marketing costs by raising medication prices; to an extent, that’s already factored into the budget for the product.

I know Big Pharma is a “for profit” industry and I’m OK with that. What level of profit is enough, though? In business, there are “acceptable losses” when developing a new product. Since when did we, the people become “acceptable losses”?

The answer is easy. We became “acceptable losses” when the drafters of the TPP (not our Congress, by the way) invited representatives of Big Pharma to help craft the agreement. These private interests are influencing very public policy. Our own legislators have to jump through hoops like trained dogs just to get a glimpse of parts of the TPP agreement.

Don’t kid yourselves: the TPP is, always has been and always will be about the rich (Big Pharma) getting richer and the poor (we, the people) dropping dead as “acceptable losses” or “collateral damage” in the corporate struggle to win. Forget about “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s old school. It’s he who can afford one course of hep-C treatment at $84,000 who wins. The rest of us just die.


Backgrounder on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and health care


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