Bad Medicine: Canadians will pay more for drugs and lose privacy under TPP

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Canadians will pay more for pharmaceuticals and see the privacy of their health information compromised.

The TPP locks in high drug prices by increasing copyright protection and allowing corporations to sue governments for lost profits. Worse, the deal prevents governments from being able to store citizens’ health information in their own country.

Patent protection: The agreement extends the patent protection for a class of drugs called “biologics”. Biologics can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids or complex combinations of these, or may be living cells or tissues taken from natural sources such as human, animal, or microorganism. These kinds of drugs are often the only treatment to some diseases. Longer copyright stops a drug from being produced by the generic drug industry, which provides the same product for less money.

Corporations can sue: The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process allows drug manufacturers and other multinational corporations to take governments to court for any measure that negatively impacts their profits. This TPP mechanism would deter a government from taking actions such as creating a national drug program for fear that it might trigger lawsuits from drug manufacturers and other multinational corporations.

•    In fact, it’s already happening. Right now, the Government of Canada is being sued by a United States pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly for $500 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)’s ISDS provisions.

Health privacy: The TPP may also pose risks to Canadian health records and patient privacy under the intellectual property (IP) provisions by preventing governments from storing confidential health information only on local servers.

This means Canadian health records will be available to authorities in other TPP countries. But other governments might have varying and lower privacy protections and restrictions on use. Under the TPP, limitations are placed on government powers to restrict the flow of internet data such as personal information across borders to other countries.

Bad medicine

The TPP’s high prescription drug prices and its low level of protection for Canadians’ health information will have a drastic impact on health care. Every developed country in the world with a universal health care system provides a universal coverage for prescription drugs to its citizens—except for Canada. A universal program would cover all Canadians and will cost less. The TPP makes this almost impossible.

Big Pharma corporations pushed hard for the TPP. Just follow the money: In 2013, Canadians filled 500 million prescriptions for pharmaceuticals drugs at a cost of $30 billion. Spending on prescriptions drugs is the fastest growing health care cost in the last 20 years.

Already one in ten Canadians do not take their prescription drugs because they cannot afford to. To take one example: A year’s supply of the brand name drug Lipitor in Canada costs around $811. The generic version costs around $140.  In New Zealand, where there is a national public agency that negotiates prescription drug prices, a year’s supply of the brand name Lipitor drug for the year is $15.

We can’t afford the TPP

The TPP is bad medicine. It’s a major hurdle that will make it much more difficult for the federal government to bring down drug prices and establish a national drug program for all Canadians.

See what others are saying about the TPP

•    Doctors without Borders (MSF): “The negative impact on public health will be enormous.”
•    Health advocates & academics: “TPP deal could drive up the cost of medicine worldwide.”
•    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: “A minefield for efforts to control drug costs.”