Lee Fang of The Intercept writes that US health industry lobbyists are just waiting for a Conservative victory on Thursday to shred British consumer safeguards and raise drug prices as part of their demands in the trade deal that the US will agree upon with a Conservative government following Brexit.
Departing the EU could mean that British consumers would no longer be protected by broad EU-wide regulations on chemicals, food, and cosmetics, among other products. Several international corporate groups have pushed to ensure that in the event of Brexit, such safeguards are abandoned in exchange for a regulatory standard that conforms to the norms of the U.S.
Consultants working directly on the Brexit deal in London and in Washington, D.C., have asked to limit the ability of British regulators to set the price for pharmaceutical drugs, lift safety restrictions on pesticides and agricultural products, and constrain the ability for the U.K. to enact its own data privacy laws.
Dean Baker, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted in an email to The Intercept that such regulatory demands by industry are “always part of trade deals.” Baker said that U.S. trade to the U.K. is relatively trivial, at around 2.5 percent of GDP, making incentives for rushing a trade agreement relatively small.
“On the other hand,” Baker wrote, “paying higher prices for drugs and being unable to regulate the Internet is likely to impose very substantial costs.”
“A government weighing these factors carefully would almost certainly refuse a deal, but a Johnson government that made Brexit front and center is likely to feel strong political pressure to have a deal with the hope few people will pay much attention to the content,” Baker noted. “Johnson could tout the deal as a big success. People would only see the negative effects years down the road.”
Fang also has been closely following the efforts of the US health industry’s efforts to get a larger foothold in the UK health market and it is clear that they have planted the seeds for the destruction of the National Health Service. US health industry companies such as Acadia Healthcare Company, Universal Health Services, Centene Corporation, Tenet Healthcare, and UnitedHealth have already purchased some privately run hospitals in the UK and are promising growth to their shareholders, presumably as a result of more NHS privatization. They have been aided by the Johnson government’s cuts to the NHS that has pushed more people into the private market.
Investigations from The Guardian show that private firms have received about £15 billion in contracts for the NHS over the last five years, a rate of privatization that increased markedly following the end of Labour control of government. In 2012, the coalition Lib Dem-Tory government passed the Health and Social Care Act, which lifted the cap on the amount of money hospitals could spend on private sector care, from 2 percent to 49 percent.
Despite claims by Tory leaders that NHS privatization is not on the table, the current circle of Johnson allies remains close to the privatization debate. Dominic Cummings, a political adviser who serves as the most senior aid to Johnson, previously worked for Babylon Health, a potential conflict of interest highlighted by the media in October. The Mirror has reported on several Tory MPs who have either received campaign contributions from private health care interests, or have served as consultants to firms that would benefit from further outsourcing.
The playbook for NHS privatization was articulated in a manifesto released in 2011 by Tory backbench MPs Liz Truss, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Chris Skidmore. The lawmakers, at the time relatively obscure members of the party, argued in the document, titled “After the Coalition,” that a newly empowered Conservative Party should one day move to make “two thirds” of hospitals “privately or not-for-profit,” arguing such reforms could capture the “extra efficiencies private companies can provide.” Raab and Patel, notably, further articulated a plan to place more health care costs on the individual.
As journalist Solomon Hughes has reported, the same group of backbench MPs behind the manifesto are now are all ministers in Johnson’s reshuffled cabinet, placing the once radical group firmly within reach of implementing their goals.
That line about the “extra efficiencies private companies can provide” is rich considering how bloated and inefficient the US health industry is, being that it works for the benefit of the companies and their shareholders and not patients.
The writing is clearly on the wall. The question is whether enough British voters will stop and read it before they vote on Thursday.
Faux journalist Jonathan Pie excoriates the performance of the last nine years of Conservative rule and delivers a strong case for voting tactically against the Conservative candidate in any electorate. His description of Boris Johnson could just as easily be applied to Donald Trump.