Washington Post Editorial Backs Secrecy, Drug Companies in TPP

On August 10, 2015, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post published a "Post View" that illustrated how comfortable the paper is with secrecy, high drug prices, and industry lobbying in general, and how much disdain the Editorial Board has for critics who challenge any of this.

The editorial is full of PhRMA and USTR talking points, and begins by describing the "inflammatory charges" against the agreement:

The patent infringement and market-access rules U.S. drug manufacturers are demanding would raise prices for cutting-edge cures in poor TPP countries such as Peru or Vietnam, and even put pressure on developed nations such as Australia or New Zealand to weaken drug cost controls embedded in their single-payer health systems.

I think you can add in all TPP member countries, including the single payer Medicare system in the United States, to the complaints about the TPP. But what does the Post find "inflammatory" about saying 25 different provisions in the TPP to broaden and extend intellectual property rights for medicines and weaken country negotiating power over drug reimbursements won't lead to higher prices? That is the whole point of the TPP in the first place, something the Post itself acknowledges by saying:

That's because only the United States offers drug-makers the ability to recoup the high costs of discovering cures through a combination of strong patent protection and pricing power when dealing with government health-care programs such as Medicare. Other countries' health-care systems, meanwhile, import products and sell them for less than they would fetch in the United States. From the U.S. industry's point of view, then, some TPP countries are trying to free ride off a drug-development system that ultimately rests on the higher prices paid by U.S. consumers and taxpayers.

In one efficient sentence, the Post Editorial Board complains that criticisms are relying upon "out-of-date" leaks of the texts to argue USTR is 'acting as a 'lobbyist' for drug companies,'" which suggests is actually OK because governments "normally represent their domestic industry."

Brandishing leaked (but now out-of-date) drafts of the TPP, the Obama administration's critics say it's acting as a "lobbyist" for drug companies -- as if governments don't normally represent their domestic industry in trade negotiations.

The Post sees no reasonable alternative to more intellectual property rights and higher drug prices prices, because:

The profit-driven system in this country has its inefficiencies, including high marketing costs and the like; but on balance it has served the United States, and the world, well, by promoting more innovation than a state-dominated system of research probably would have.

This comment more or less ignores the fact that United States spends more than $30 billion per year on the NIH alone, and provides deep subsidies for clinical trials (50 percent of costs) through the misnamed orphan drug tax credit, which was used for 9 of 10 cancer drugs approved last year, including Amgen's drug Blincyto/Blinatumomab, which reportedly costs $178,000 for two four week treatment cycles.

Agreements like the TPP could expand cost sharing for R&D subsidies and incentives without mandating policies that lead to higher prices, and focus on delinking R&D funding from high drug prices. That's what KEI wants. That's what MSF, Oxfam, Health Action International, UAEM,TWN, Public Citizen and lots of TPP critics want.

The Post wants to inoculate itself from the suggestion it might be supporting unequal access to new drugs by saying:

The administration's policy is to seek accommodations for the poorer TPP countries so that the costs of patent protection for drug-makers fall on those who can best afford them.

Sounds good, but does the Post even bother to read the leaked versions of the text, or listen to the critics it dismisses? The main concession USTR is offering these days is to phase in a few of the obligations over time, in a few countries, so not all the pain will be immediate. This was the same strategy the US used to push the TRIPS agreement provisions on drug patents in 1994.

The Post closes by saying:

U.S. negotiators should be judged on how well they achieve it in a final deal, not on the charges and counter-charges that crop up during the talks.

Here the Post seems oblivious to the intense lobbying and public relations campaign waged by big pharmaceutical companies and their trade associations, on behalf on the TPP. Why does the Post not think it odd and off-putting that members of congress and their staff, the news media and the general public have to rely upon leaked versions of the TPP text to do any meaningful analysis, while USTR gives the TPP text to hundreds of lawyers and lobbyists, the vast majority of which represent big companies and trade associations.

Is this the Washington Post view of democracy these days? Conduct secret negotiations, with big pharma completely informed, with everyone else scrambling for the occasional leaks (none from the Washington Post so far), and then just looking at the "final" version, without an opportunity to influence that outcome?

There is a reason why PhRMA and other special interests have access to the negotiating text, it is because big drug companies expect and are allowed to influence the final deal, every step of the way to the final deal.

When and if we do have a final text, it may well be different from what we have seen in the leaks, including the May 11, 2015 version of the intellectual property text that our organization published last week. It will likely be better on some issues, and worse on others, regardless of your point of view. That is because this is a political process, over policies that matter, something your paper has to come to grips with, as regards both the substance and the process. When the text improves, often it is because the critics show up, rather than shut up.

It is is not bad for MSF, Oxfam, Public Citizen, Health Gap, EFF, KEI and countless other groups to weigh in on the rules about intellectual property. Once the rules are set, they will be extremely difficult to change -- much more so than a mere U.S. statute. They will also apply the 12 countries negotiating the agreement, plus the many other countries who will join later, including developing countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. What type of underdeveloped moral compass, contempt for democratic processes and lack of imagination over R&D policies led the post Editorial Board to write and publish this Post View?