My CBPP colleague Bryann DaSilva (not a typo–just a bit of ‘n’ inflation at the end of his first name) makes a smart connection I missed between some of my recent scribblings.
In the TPP debate I had with USTR Mike Froman in the journal Democracy, I point out concerns regarding extended patents on pharmaceuticals, due in no small part to the agenda of those corporate interests at the negotiating table. As I stressed, I suspect Froman is closer to me on these concerns–which loom particularly large, btw, for the less advanced economies in the deal. Such protectionism jacks up prices and that surely hurts them even more than us. But here the key political economy point (bold added):
Progressives are understandably concerned [about extended patent rules in the trade deal]. Economist Dean Baker concludes, “While [TPP] provisions are likely to lead to higher drug prices in the United States, they will have their greatest impact in the developing world.” Rohit Malpani, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders, has voiced a related critique: “There’s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding.” That may be changing; I suspect that Froman personally is more sympathetic to costs in developing countries than he is to the Pharma lobby. But we do not know, and we should not assume, that the USTR has more clout than Big Pharma in a deal that is likely to require Republican support.”
Bryann noted the connection between this problem–a critical good that I argue has important public good characteristics–and the solutions both Dean Baker and I discuss in this Room for Debate forum in today’s NYT. I argue that while incremental steps, like requiring a certain amount of profits are reinvested in research, might help realign incentives to boost social benefits over individual profits, the fact is that health care is in many ways a public good. And that probably means we can’t solve this problem with market solutions (more competition) or quasi market solutions, like privately held patents of the type Pharma appears to want to enshrine in the TPP.
I suspect that at the end of the day it will take more rigorous cost controls and moving drug patents into the public domain. I offer some ideas on how to do that without hurting innovation in my NYT piece.
And yes, that appears to be the opposite direction of where the TPP is headed on this issue.