WikiLeaks has released a draft of an annex of a secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would likely enable pharmaceutical companies to fight the ability of participating governments to control the rise of drug prices. It would empower companies to mount challenges to Medicare in the United States.
For a number of years, the US and eleven other countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—have been negotiating proposals for the TPP. Drafts previously released by WikiLeaks have shown that the US has been the most extreme negotiator in the process.
“This leak reveals that the Obama administration, acting at the behest of pharmaceutical companies, has subjected Medicare to a series of procedural rules, negotiated in secret, that would limit Congress’ ability to enact policy reforms that would reduce prescription drug costs for Americans – and might even open to challenge aspects of our health care system today,” according to Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.
Public Citizen is a watchdog group that has been at the forefront of challenging the TPP in the US.
The annex, which is dated December 17, 2014, expressly names the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as being covered by the trade agreement.
The watchdog group contends that the language could affect the ability of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue pharmaceutical reform and “negotiate the price of prescription drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.”
“Vital to this reform would be the establishment of a national formulary, which would provide the government with substantial leverage to obtain discounts,” Public Citizen suggests. Yet, if the TPP is adopted, this “formulary” would be subject to the agreement’s requirements, which would “pose significant administrative costs, enshrine greater pharmaceutical company influence in government reimbursement decision-making and reduce the capability of the government to negotiate lower prices.”
The Senate already approved “fast track” legislation that would give President Obama “trade promotion authority” to send the TPP to Congress for a vote. The House of Representatives will vote on “fast track” this week (as early as June 11).
The Obama administration has been highly secretive, requiring senators and their staffers to have security clearances to read the drafted TPP.
Senator Barbara Boxer was confronted by a guard who told her she could not “take notes” on the trade agreement. The guard insisted the notes would be kept in a file, which made Boxer even more outraged. (What would stop the Obama administration from using such notes to maneuver around the objections of members of Congress?)
A growing bloc of representatives in the House have solidified their opposition to the TPP and demand the agreement be made public before a “fast track” vote.
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the new details suggest the country’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) would be undermined and increase the cost of medicines for the public.
The drafted text “tightly specifies the operation of countries’ schemes for subsidizing pharmaceuticals and medical devices with the aim of providing greater disclosure, more avenues for pharmaceutical industry influence and greater opportunities for industry contestation of pharmaceutical decision making,” according to Dr. Deborah Gleeson, an expert in Australia on international trade and public health policy who analyzed the leaked document [PDF].
Although, as Gleeson notes, this draft seems to be watered down from previous language, which would have made it possible for companies to “target” the pricing of pharmaceuticals.
This section would have significant implications for New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac), which Professor Jane Kelsey of Auckland University says has been a prime target of US pharmaceutical companies in TPP negotiations.
“This leaked text shows the TPPA will severely erode Pharmac’s ability to continue todeliver affordable medicines and medical devices as it has for the past two decades,” Kelsey states. “That will mean fewer medicines are subsidized, or people will pay more as co-payments, or more of the health budget will go to pay for medicines instead of other activities, or the health budget will have to expand beyond the cap. Whatever theoutcome, the big global pharmaceutical companies will win, and the poorest and most vulnerable New Zealanders will lose.”
According to WikiLeaks, few in the governments of negotiating countries have access to the “full text of the agreement and the public, who it will affect most,” have no access at all. “Hundreds of large corporations, however, have been given access to portions of the text, generating a powerful lobby to effect changes on behalf of these groups.
“WikiLeaks has launched a campaign to crowd-source a $100,000 reward for the rest of the TPP, which at time of press [has] raised $62,000,” the media organization states.
Previously, an intellectual property chapter, an updated intellectual property chapter, environmental proposals, a report on the section dealing with the environment and other agreement documents dealing with country’s positions on the trade agreement were published.
WikiLeaks also released a draft of another secretive trade agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). It actually involves more countries than the TPP and, if adopted, would likely increase the ability of corporations to protect business from government regulations in the public interest.
The information has contributed significantly to the public’s understanding of the process that has been unfolding behind closed doors. Without WikiLeaks’ efforts, the TPP negotiations would be even more secretive, which is to say that it would be even harder to reasonably speculate about what pharmaceutical companies and other corporations were seeking to gain through this shadowy trade agreement.
Image created by WikiLeaks for the release of the Health Care Annex.