US, EU unions express concern over drug pricing policies

Unions from the U.S. and European Union expressed concern on Wednesday over drug pricing policies being pursued by the United States for inclusion into two major trade agreements they argue would restrain government policy choices on healthcare.

The groups argue that if the U.S. negotiating position is implemented as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it would boost profits for a handful of medical firms and lead to higher costs for patients.

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In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Karel De Gucht, commissioner for trade of the European Commission, the groups say the U.S. position mirrors the one taken on the pricing of medicines and medical equipment during talks over the free trade pact with South Korea.

The International Trade Union Confederation, European Trade Union Confederation and AFL-CIO wrote that "the excessive protection offered in the KORUS to the manufacturers of such products will needlessly burden national health systems and increase the costs borne by patients."

"It is imperative that these trade and investment agreements result in increased savings for patients and national budgets instead of further enriching a few pharmaceutical and medical corporations," they wrote. 

"Public health, as well as access to affordable medicines and healthcare, are human rights that should be strengthened, not undermined, by trade arrangements."

They said the Korea deal guarantees input from producers at multiple stages of a government’s pricing decision process.

They also expressed concern that, if the provisions are mixed with the investor-to-state dispute settlement, private companies could have excessive power over challenging choices about how to best protect public health. 

Also, they say the provisions would allow drug and device manufacturers to acquire the ‘right’ to appeal decisions of other countries’ health authorities regarding the value of the patented pharmaceutical product or medical device and demand a greater reimbursement.