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Is NAFTA 2.0 a Trojan horse for even higher drug prices?


(Feb. 25, 2019) — Many Washingtonians, including myself and other members of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans, breathed a sigh of relief when the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed last year.

Sen. John McCain’s “thumbs down” vote was a dramatic moment in American political history, and reassured patients — young people, working people, and retirees alike — that guarantees of coverage for preexisting conditions and other provisions would continue to be the law of the land. Drug companies were required to pay more in order to close the “donut hole” coverage gap for prescription drugs under Medicare, and that, too, was preserved.

Still, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and President Trump, in his recent State of the Union speech, doubled down on his administration’s efforts to protect the profits of drug makers over the health and financial security of patients.

The new NAFTA, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), could be a Trojan horse, bringing higher drug prices for older Americans and others. The agreement, which will need to be voted on by both the House and Senate, “would increase the monopoly period for certain high-priced brand name biologic medicines while banning competition from lower-priced alternatives,” according to one report. With less competition between brand-name companies and generic producers, especially for expensive biologics, which can cost more than $45,000 per year, prices would likely continue to increase.

This is unacceptable. Prices are already high; millions of Americans don’t fill prescriptions, or self-ration their medications, because they can’t afford to pay for them. Prices for the most common brand drugs prescribed to seniors, a population usually relying on a fixed income, have spiked significantly in recent years. This makes their treatment less effective and their health worse over time.

But who can blame them? If you can’t afford the treatment, what does it matter how effective the medicine is?

There are plenty of options for using the new trade agreement to lower, rather than raise, the cost of drugs. Democrats and Republicans have all promised to bring prices down. A coalition of groups, including the ARA, all wrote to the administration to suggest provisions that would encourage more competition and increase transparency for patents. Congress can push the White House to include these elements in a final deal. Our congressional delegation should be among the loudest voices for making these kinds of changes.

Washington’s congressional members have long been vocal advocates for our export-driven state, pushing for modernization of port infrastructure and for export assistance to Washington state companies. But this isn’t even about international trade. This seems to be focused on finding a workaround to keep drug prices high for the patients who can least afford it.

Seniors, especially, shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of ever-increasing drug costs. Medicare drug prices are rising at 10 times the cost of inflation. Adding a bad trade deal will only make this worse. We need our elected officials to take a stand on this issue, and work to make the agreement one that encourages competition and improves access to affordable medicines, instead of restricting it.

For more information on this important issue, download this Alliance for Retired Americans’ fact sheet.

Jackie Boschok is President of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans, a statewide nonprofit organization with more than 90,000 members that unites our affiliate organizations, retired workers and community groups to win social and economic justice and a better, more secure future for ourselves, our families and future generations. For more information, visit WSARA’s website or follow on Facebook

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