Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well said

I don’t often praise the New Zealand Herald, for a variety of reasons. Among them, I just don’t mention good things; most of us talk about bad things, not good things, so this is probably natural.

At any rate, today the Herald did something so right, it begs to be praised. In an editorial titled “Pharmac more important than US deal” the paper makes an argument that I’ve been making: Our drug buying agency, Pharmac, is far more important to New Zealand than any trade agreement with the United States.

This is an issue because the pharmaceutical corporations have been lobbying the US government to make sure that any “free trade” agreement with New Zealand must ensure the destruction, or, at least, the emasculation of the agency. At the moment, there are negotiations to bring the US into the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Chile.

But 28 US Senators sent President Obama a letter claiming that, in their opinion, "intellectual property" wasn’t protected in the trade agreement. This is bullshit, and everyone knows it: Those 28 Senators are lobbying only to protect the profits of the big pharmaceutical companies.

We know this because, as the Herald notes, if it was really about “intellectual property” that would be easily addressed through negotiation. We’ve seen that already when the government rolled over and gave the Americans nearly everything they wanted when it passed—under bloody urgency—the recent law dealing with copyright and file sharing.

The Herald also correctly points out that Pharmac doesn’t determine what drugs can be sold, and it doesn’t prevent people from buying prescription drugs at whatever prices the pharmaceutical companies demand. All Pharmac does is negotiate on behalf of the taxpayer to get the best possible price for drugs that are most commonly prescribed.

Pharmac provides excellent value; as the Herald put it, “a survey of 14 developed countries last year found New Zealand spent the least on medicines, at US$2510 ($3152) a person, and the United States spent the most, US$7290.” The Herald lays out what this all means:
“America has the world's most expensive health services and the developed world's poorest coverage. It is struggling to reform its health system while setting its plans firmly against a publicly funded single purchaser of services for those who cannot afford competitive private insurance. Until it solves the conundrum it has set for itself, it is in no position to insist that trade partners abandon a system that works well.”
And that’s really what it comes down to. We would never adopt the broken American system willingly, what makes them think they can coerce us into it? As the Herald sums up, “Pharmac must not be a bargaining chip in any trade negotiation. If the US is going to make it a deal-breaker, so be it.”

I couldn’t possibly agree more.

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