Trade agreements seem deadly dull to most Americans and we often feel we have little, if any, control over agreements between giants actors like nations and corporations. Trade agreements are written in technical language that is denser than most reading matter and does not exactly thrill the average reader. Economics is one of the more arcane topics. It seems simple to anyone who keeps a household budget but we also understand that a national economy, or, even worse, a global economy happens on an entirely different plane of complexity.
Even if we could read an agreement like the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement now being hammered out and soon to come up for a vote (which we cannot because it is secret) we would have even less ability to predict the effects of this agreement on our economy than the people who have negotiated the agreement (often politicians), and their predictions have almost as little value as ours.
We may not understand the TPP, or fast track which apparently has to do with the process for passing the agreement in Congress (without much Congressional and no public input), but we do understand how much our Congress people like to attach little surprises to bills that are coming up for a vote. In this case, if you have been paying attention perhaps you have heard that Republicans (who seem to be in charge of the nastiest surprises these days) have tacked $700 million in cuts to Medicare on to the bill for fast tracking the Trans Pacific trade agreement. The fast track bill is known by the acronym TAA.
You probably remember that the Sequester mandated cuts to Medicare for each of the next ten years. We should be screaming bloody murder. We should at least be writing and phoning our Congress people. Why are Republicans cutting Medicare just as more and more people will need it? Is it possibly because wealthy Republicans have decided to wean off any and all who are dependent on government so that we will stop bothering them to pay taxes?
These cuts will hurt our Medicare care and they will force our doctors to absorb more cuts when they are already being asked to drastically cut their fees.
The TPP and fast track also suggest that we make some new rules about prescriptions that will raise drug costs which are already fairly astronomical. This amendment to this trade agreement also promises to impact negatively on either the pocket books of American citizens who can still afford to buy the drugs, or the health care of Americans who cannot afford the costs. These new rules which threaten to increase drug costs offer another matter about which we should write our Congress people.
Admittedly one of these sources I will quote for you is a left-leaning source. I tried to fact check this but have not, so far, received an answer to my request. But if these are secretive actions being taken on the down low by Republicans we cannot expect the right wing to give us the scoop which would explain the dearth of articles from the right on this matter.
I hope that after you are aware of this info you will write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them either to vote against the TPP and fast track or to make sure that these “poison pills” are removed from the bills or documents before they pass.
Medicare cuts in the TPP
The Republican assault on the TAA incurred the wrath of nationwide health providers who rightly object to the GOP ‘fix’ because it includes a 0.25 percent cut in Medicare payments. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare payment cut amounts to $700 million. The amount, regardless how much, is just another assault on the elderly, hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and home health and hospice providers who have already been forced to absorb hundreds-of-billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare program in recent years. The latest GOP assault was in 2011 with the 2 percent cut in Medicare payments as a result of the Republicans’ precious sequester. The 2 percent cut will continue for eight more years unless Republicans find it in their black hearts to end the sequester cuts once and for all.
A group of healthcare providers issued a letter to legislators on Tuesday signed by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Health Care Association (skilled nursing trade group) and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. The letter “urged Congress to strike this provision from the legislation. Reductions to Medicare payments have real impacts on patients and providers. Additionally alarming is the use of Medicare cuts to pay for non-Medicare related legislation, a precedent that we believe is unwise.” It is also heartless to include Medicare cuts to an international trade deal written by corporations, but no-one has ever accused Republicans of having a heart; or being unafraid to find unrelated reasons to cut Medicare, food stamps, housing assistance, or unemployment benefits in other legislation.
To make the cost of the trade bill just a little more painful for Americans besides those that will lose their jobs, the elderly who will lose out with Medicare cuts, and healthcare providers facing another .025% cut in Medicare payments, the Republican adornment to the TAA extension includes damage to struggling families with cuts in the child tax credit. Republicans could no more explain why cutting the child tax credit is crucial to ‘fast-tracking’ the TPP than they could cutting Medicare, but it is safe to say they just love hurting Americans; particularly in advancing the whims of corporations.
How Trade Agreements Could Affect Prescription Drug Costs
The United States Trade Representative (USTR) is pursuing language in trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) that could restrict the ability for the United States and other countries to manage prescription drug and medical device costs in public programs. Proposals the USTR has sought in trade negotiations include:
- Limiting the authority of governments to set payments or reimbursements for prescription drugs in their public programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. While it is not the intent of the USTR to undermine the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs’ exiting authority to control prescription drug prices, final language in the agreement could be used to attack such programs.
- Forcing countries to extend lengthy patent protections for pharmaceutical drugs. As long as a patent is protected, a generic cannot be sold. The patent holder is the only one allowed to sell a drug and can therefore demand a monopoly price for it. Lengthy patents drive up the cost of prescription drugs.
- Allowing countries to grant twelve years of regulatory exclusivity for the first registered biologic medicine. The US is the only country that allows long periods of extra-patent exclusivity to drug manufacturers. This proposal could block the president’s plan to reduce the exclusivity period for biologic drugs from twelve years to seven years or preclude restoring previous policy in which biologic drugs were not provided a period of increased exclusivity.
Establishing “investor-to-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) systems in trade agreements to allow investors to challenge laws and regulations which they allege will hurt their profits. Drug companies could use ISDS to challenge formularies and preferred drug lists, discounts and rebates and other policies in public programs that pay drug companies less than the price they demand.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
By Nancy Brisson