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Fact check: The TPP puts Big Pharma in the driver's seat of Canada's health system

Image: Flickr/Broadbent Institute

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The claim: The NDP says the TPP "could mean dramatic increases in the price of life-saving medication." Is this true?

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were at all worthwhile, then we should ask why Hillary Clinton -- who consistently aligned herself to the right of Barack Obama and wouldn't take a position on the unpopular Keystone XL pipeline -- opposes it. The implications TPP has for key economic sectors -- namely dairy and auto -- have formed the brunt of popular discourse for and against the TPP. But less has been said publicly by political candidates about the implications the trade deal has on public health.

Could this be because of the justifiable outrage Canadians would feel towards any undermining of public healthcare?

Regardless, the facts we actually know of this so-far secret deal are clearly on the side of TPP skeptics. The most threatening provisions of the trade agreement to public health care reside in the clauses that threaten state ownership and management of health-care delivery systems.

In effect, elected governments will cede their authority over health and other jurisdictions to private enterprise through investor-state dispute settlement. Both the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Public Services International have foregrounded these concerns in their government submissions at the outset of the TPP negotiations.

Doctors Without Borders announced earlier this week its opposition to the TPP specifically on the point that the TPP provides monopoly protections for biologic drugs (drugs derived from living tissue) that will "raise the price of medicines for millions." Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe confidently dismissed their assertions as a bygone concern. Expect no less from big media interests there.

Under the TPP, restrictions on generic drugs for new, more expensive biosimilars brought to market by pharmaceutical companies will be set at a mandatory minimum of five years. The United States had pushed for 12 years and while we can rejoice at the apparent compromise, there is still an absence of certainty whether data-sharing restrictions could go beyond the five-year minimum. At best the ability for drug manufacturers to jack up prices without government recourse are much more likely under TPP.

Both the Conservative and Liberal parties are adamant that the TPP is good for the Canadian economy. I'll pause here to offer that I genuinely cringe every time I hear the perpetual Liberal Party radio ad repeat that the NDP will "like Harper, eliminate the deficit immediately."

Justin Trudeau isn't lying when he says that in this case, yes, the NDP has aligned itself in a peculiar way with a rote conservative political position that is upsetting to the party faithful. But his standalone example is an exception that proves the rule: in so many other ways the Liberals are just like the Conservatives.

If we put this to the test using the TPP and how it relates to the centrepiece of the purely imaginary but all too real Canadian identity that is public health care, we can no longer distinguish between whigs and tories. The TPP does threaten to increase the price of generic prescription drugs and more.

At least we can be hopeful that the TPP will serve as an impetus for the public to successfully demand a long-overdue national pharmacare plan of an elected government or vote one in that will actually install it.

Until then, we'll have to watch as the Martin Shkrelis of the world corner markets and raise prices under newer, friendlier trade and patent rubrics.

Verdict:

 

Nora Loreto will return next week. Or tomorrow if she feels like it.

 

Want to see an election campaign fact rich and spin poor? Chip in to keep our fact check blog up to date.

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