TPP: The “Trade” Deal that Could Inflate Your Healthcare Bill
Much has been said about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens to raise medicine prices in TPP developing countries, thanks to the deal's proposed expansion of monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations.
Less has been said about the proposed TPP rules that could increase medicine prices in the United States.
Americans pay far more for healthcare than people in any other developed country, even though U.S. life expectancy falls below the average for developed countries. A major contributor to our bloated healthcare costs is the high prices for medicines in the United States. According to the Government Accountability Office, U.S. drug prices increased more than 70 percent faster than prices for other healthcare goods and services over 2006-2010. As a result, millions of Americans cannot afford the medicines they need to live healthy lives.
Soaring drug prices also drive up the amount that taxpayers must pay to fund public health programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and programs covering the U.S. military and veterans. Indeed, rising healthcare costs are the number one contributor to the U.S. government’s projected long-term budget deficits.
To try to combat the twin problems of unaffordable healthcare and unsustainable deficits, U.S. federal and state governments already use several tools to tamp down the cost of drugs – for Medicare, Medicaid and for military healthcare under TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Many more such cost containment policies have been proposed.
Yet, the TPP threatens to chill such proposals and even roll back existing policies to rein in exorbitant medicine prices. Leaked draft TPP texts – an intellectual property chapter, investment chapter and healthcare annex – contain expansive rules that would constrain the ability of the U.S. government to reduce medicine prices. Getting these terms into the TPP was a key objective of large U.S. pharmaceutical corporations that stand to reap monopoly profits from expansive patent terms and restrictions on government cost containment efforts. This incentive may explain why pharmaceutical corporations have lobbied Congress for the TPP more than any other industry.
The TPP’s threats to the affordability of U.S. healthcare have spurred major groups that have not traditionally taken part in trade policy debates to warn against the TPP’s provisions. For example, AARP – representing more than 37 million Americans over the age of 50 – joined unions and consumer groups in a November 2013 letter to President Obama to express “deep concern” that texts proposed for the TPP would “limit the ability of states and the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs.” The groups concluded that the TPP could “undermine access to affordable health care for millions in the United States and around the world.”
Stay tuned for post #2 on specific TPP threats to affordable U.S. healthcare: Expansive Rights for Big Pharma, Expensive Medicines for Consumers.