TPP: What Impact Could It Have on Medical Tourism?

This is slightly off-topic, as far as this blog is concerned, but not that far off for the purposes of those of you in the medical tourism industry in general.

As reported last week on the Health Affairs Blog, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that Barack Obama is asking Congress to give him for fast-track authority, may be a threat to global health, according to Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

MSF is deeply concerned that the TPP, in its current form, will lock-in high, unsustainable drug prices, block or delay the availability of affordable generic medicines, and price millions of people out of much-needed medical care.

They believe the public health repercussions of this deal could be massive.

Some of the concerns MSF has with several U.S. government demands in the TPP are:

  • the TPP would lower the standard for patentability of medicines.
  • It would force TPP governments to grant pharmaceutical companies additional patents for changes to existing medicines, even when the changes provide no therapeutic benefit to patients.
  • These provisions would facilitate “evergreening” and other forms of abuse of the patent system by lengthening monopolies and delaying access to generic competition.
  • Another concerning provision in the TPP involves so-called “data exclusivity” for biologics, a new class of medicines that includes vaccines and drugs used for cancer and multiple sclerosis treatment.
  • Data exclusivity blocks competing firms from using previously generated clinical trial data to gain approval for generic versions of these drugs and vaccines.
  • If pharmaceutical companies have their way, the TPP will block generic producers of biologics from entering the market for at least 12 years, during which patients would be forced to endure astronomical prices.

What impact the TPP would have on the growth and viability of medical tourism is unclear. We have seen so far, that with the trade deal between the US, Canada and Mexico (NAFTA) that there has not been any significant complications, as far as workers’ comp is concerned (see my posts, NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View and NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View: Update, as well as Cross-border Workers’ Compensation a Reality in California).

Those of you who send patients to Mexico can attest to its success or failure to improve medical care across the border.

Other trade agreements made in the region such as CAFTA-DR and the Panama-United States Trade Promotion Agreement, likewise will have to be assessed as to how it has impacted medical tourism to Panama from the US.

So until we know just how TPP will affect global health care, we will be unable to ascertain its impact on the growth and development of medical tourism as a viable alternative not just to general health care, but to workers’ comp as well.

The likelihood that Congress will give the president fast-track authority is up in the air, but we won’t know until the Senate takes up the agreement tomorrow.

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