[Ip-health] Washington Post editorial backs secrecy, drug companies in TPP

Claire Cassedy claire.cassedy at keionline.org
Wed Aug 12 07:52:09 PDT 2015


Washington Post editorial backs secrecy, drug companies in TPP

By James Love
Posted: 08/12/2015

On August 10, 2015, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post published a
"Post View" that illustrated how comfortable the paper is with secrecy,
high drug prices, and industry lobbying in general, and how much disdain
the Editorial Board has for critics who challenge any of this.

In a follow up to its February 4, 2015 editorial "Critics' concerns about
the Trans-Pacific Partnership are overblown"[1], the new Post editorial is
titled "A debate over U.S. pharmaceuticals is snagging the Trans-Pacific
Partnership deal."[2]

The editorial is full of PhRMA and USTR talking points, and begins by
describing the "inflammatory charges" against the agreement:

----Begin Quote----
    The patent infringement and market-access rules U.S. drug manufacturers
are demanding would raise prices for cutting-edge cures in poor TPP
countries such as Peru or Vietnam, and even put pressure on developed
nations such as Australia or New Zealand to weaken drug cost controls
embedded in their single-payer health systems.
----End Quote----

I think you can add in all TPP member countries, including the single payer
Medicare system in the United States, to the complaints about the TPP. But
what does the Post find "inflammatory" about saying 25 different provisions
in the TPP to broaden and extend intellectual property rights for medicines
and weaken country negotiating power over drug reimbursements won't lead to
higher prices? That is the whole point of the TPP in the first place,
something the Post itself acknowledges by saying:

----Begin Quote----
    That's because only the United States offers drug-makers the ability to
recoup the high costs of discovering cures through a combination of strong
patent protection and pricing power when dealing with government
health-care programs such as Medicare. Other countries' health-care
systems, meanwhile, import products and sell them for less than they would
fetch in the United States. From the U.S. industry's point of view, then,
some TPP countries are trying to free ride off a drug-development system
that ultimately rests on the higher prices paid by U.S. consumers and
----End Quote----

In one efficient sentence, the Post Editorial Board complains that
criticisms are relying upon "out-of-date" leaks of the texts to argue USTR
is 'acting as a 'lobbyist' for drug companies,'" which suggests is actually
OK because governments "normally represent their domestic industry."

----Begin Quote----
    Brandishing leaked (but now out-of-date) drafts of the TPP, the Obama
administration's critics say it's acting as a "lobbyist" for drug companies
-- as if governments don't normally represent their domestic industry in
trade negotiations.
----End Quote----

The Post sees no reasonable alternative to more intellectual property
rights and higher drug prices prices, because:

---Begin Quote----
    The profit-driven system in this country has its inefficiencies,
including high marketing costs and the like; but on balance it has served
the United States, and the world, well, by promoting more innovation than a
state-dominated system of research probably would have.
----End Quote----

This comment more or less ignores the fact that United States spends more
than $30 billion per year on the NIH alone, and provides deep subsidies for
clinical trials (50 percent of costs) through the misnamed orphan drug tax
credit, which was used for 9 of 10 cancer drugs approve last year,
including Amgen's drug Blincyto/Blinatumomab, which reportedly costs
$178,000 for two four week treatment cycles.

Agreements like the TPP could expand cost sharing for R&D subsidies and
incentives without mandating policies that lead to higher prices, and focus
on delinking R&D funding from high drug prices. That's what KEI wants.
That's what MSF, Oxfam, Health Action International, UAEM,TWN, Public
Citizen and lots of TPP critics want.

The Post wants to inoculate itself from the suggestion it might be
supporting unequal access to new drugs by saying:

----Begin Quote----
    The administration's policy is to seek accommodations for the poorer
TPP countries so that the costs of patent protection for drug-makers fall
on those who can best afford them.
----End Quote----

Sounds good, but does the Post even bother to read the leaked versions of
the text, or listen to the critics it dismisses? The main concession USTR
is offering these days is to phase in a few of the obligations over time,
in a few countries, so not all the pain will be immediate. This was the
same strategy the US used to push the TRIPS agreement provisions on drug
patents in 1994.

The Post closes by saying:

----Begin Quote----
    U.S. negotiators should be judged on how well they achieve it in a
final deal, not on the charges and counter-charges that crop up during the
----End Quote----

Here the Post seems obvious to the intense lobbying and public relations
campaign waged by big pharmaceutical companies and their trade
associations, on behalf on the TPP. Not does the Post think it at all odd
that members of congress, the new media and the general public has to rely
upon leaked versions of the TPP text to do any meaningful analysis, while
USTR gives the TPP text to hundreds of lawyers and lobbyists, the vast
majority of which represent big companies and trade associations.

Is this the Washington Post view of democracy these days? Conduct secret
negotiations, with big pharma completely informed, with everyone else
scrambling for the occasional leaks (none from the Washington Post so far),
and then just looking at the "final" version, without an opportunity to
influence that outcome?

There is a reason why PhRMA and other special interests have access to the
negotiating text, it is because are expected to influence the final deal,
every step of the way to the final deal.

When and if we do have a final text, it may well be different from what we
have seen the leaks, including the May 11, 2015 version of the intellectual
property text that our organization published last week. It will likely be
better on some issues, and worse on others, regardless of your point of
view. That is because this is a political process, over policies that
matter, something your paper has to come to grips with, as regards both the
substance and the process. When the text improves, often it is because the
critics show up, rather than shut up.

It is is not bad for MSF, Oxfam, Public Citizen, Health Gap, EFF, KEI and
countless other groups to weigh in on the rules about intellectual
property. Once the rules are set, they will be extremely difficult to
change -- much more so than a mere U.S. statute. They will also apply the
12 countries negotiating the agreement, plus the many other countries who
will join later, including developing countries such as the Philippines,
Thailand and Indonesia. What type of underdeveloped moral compass, contempt
for democratic processes and lack of imagination over R&D policies led the
post Editorial Board to write and publish this Post View?



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