Trade Agreement May Undercut Importing of Inexpensive Drugs
By ELIZABETH BECKER and ROBERT PEAR
Published: July 12, 2004
WASHINGTON, July 11 — Congress is poised to approve an international trade agreement that could have the effect of thwarting a goal pursued by many lawmakers of both parties: the import of inexpensive prescription drugs to help millions of Americans without health insurance.
The agreement, negotiated with Australia by the Bush administration, would allow pharmaceutical companies to prevent imports of drugs to the United States and also to challenge decisions by Australia about what drugs should be covered by the country's health plan, the prices paid for them and how they can be used.
It represents the administration's model for strengthening the protection of expensive brand-name drugs in wealthy countries, where the biggest profits can be made.
In negotiating the pact, the United States, for the first time, challenged how a foreign industrialized country operates its national health program to provide inexpensive drugs to its own citizens. Americans without insurance pay some of the world's highest prices for brand-name prescription drugs, in part because the United States does not have such a plan.
Only in the last few weeks have lawmakers realized that the proposed Australia trade agreement — the Bush administration's first free trade agreement with a developed country — could have major implications for health policy and programs in the United States.
The debate over drug imports, an issue with immense political appeal, has been raging for four years, with little reference to the arcane details of trade policy. Most trade agreements are so complex that lawmakers rarely investigate all the provisions, which typically cover such diverse areas as manufacturing, tourism, insurance, agriculture and, increasingly, pharmaceuticals.
Bush administration officials oppose legalizing imports of inexpensive prescription drugs, citing safety concerns. Instead, with strong backing from the pharmaceutical industry, they have said they want to raise the price of drugs overseas to spread the burden of research and development that is borne disproportionately by the United States.
This is a big, sloppy wet kiss for Big Pharma at the expense of the American consumer. It almost looks as if the run up to the election is being treated as a fire sale by Bushco to see how much they can give away to their corporate friends before the election.
Never let it be said that Bush doesn't repay a campaign favor. My grandmother lives on a fixed income and were it not for my dad and my uncle helping her out, she'd have to make the choice between food and medication. Many of her friends make the trip to Canada for their prescriptions in order to make ends meet. And Bush is trying to close that avenue, lifeline for some. I'm almost as fired up as the Fixer-man.