Economic Justice

Big Pharma Could Win International Price Monopoly, Unlimited Profits in 'Free Trade' Deal

Icon November 20, 2013 - 20:48 By Ethan Rome: Executive Director, Health Care For America Now       Click here to see originial article Big Pharma has a new tool to make turbo-charged profits and insulate itself from efforts to rein in skyrocketing health costs. Under the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations, drug companies will be able to challenge any restraint on their ability to price-gouge, including laws that empower public programs like Medicare and Medicaid to use their purchasing power to obtain lower prices. In the lawless market envisioned by the trade deal, drug makers would charge whatever they want without any constraints. TPP negotiators are currently meeting in Salt Lake City for critical discussions about this agreement, which would be the largest economic trade treaty since the World Trade Organization was established in 1995. The pharmaceutical companies don't need any help from a trade agreement to make more money. The CEOs of these companies are compensated well for this unprecedented accumulation of corporate wealth. Over the 10 years ending in 2012, the 11 largest global drug companies made an astonishing $711 billion in profits, according to an analysis of corporate filings by Health Care for America Now. The leaders of this handful of companies were paid a combined $1.57 billion during this same period. The United States Trade Representative is pushing to include policies in the agreement that would prohibit the ability of states and the federal government to get discounts for prescription drugs in the same way that private insurers do. This would apply to all the countries in the TPP and would include existing and future laws. As a result, the TPP agreement could nullify the mechanisms to control pharmaceutical prices that the U.S. already has in place, including state Medicaid rebates and the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) discounts under Medicare Part D. The TPP could also undermine new initiatives to control costs. For example, a public option for coverage under the ACA wouldn't be able to achieve savings by bargaining over prescription drug prices, and a Medicare savings measure under consideration by Congress might be stopped dead in its tracks. The president's budget proposal includes a measure to allow Medicare to get bulk purchasing discounts just like state Medicaid programs. A similar measure introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Medicare Drug Savings Act, would save $141 billion over the next 10 years. Allowing Medicare to spend less would be a far better idea than asking seniors to pay more for their Medicare benefits. Why would the United States trade away our ability to save $141 billion and instead give it to the prescription drug makers? Instead of talking about making seniors pay more for their health care, Congress ought to be talking about how this trade agreement is a disaster for holding down rising medical costs. Some supporters of the TPP argue that the agreement could exempt Medicare or Medicaid, but the trade representative's proposal, leaked during the early stages of the negotiations, does not spare these programs or others yet to be established. That's why the creation of a public option is such an important example of what could be at risk. The public option is good policy. It increases competition and reduces cost. It shouldn't be preemptively eliminated from discussions about how the ACA could be improved. The idea that Congress should be blocked from taking meaningful action on health care in the future is outrageous. Unfortunately, it's impossible for the public to follow these negotiations because there's no transparency. The entire process has been conducted behind closed doors and limited to trade officials, except for 600 representatives of the pharmaceutical industry who have been invited to participate. The proposed policy would work in the following way: Any drug maker from a signatory country could challenge any law or regulation in another signatory country if the company could show the law would limit its profits. So if a drug maker doesn't like a law in another country, it can nullify it by using the trade agreement as a club. For example, New Zealand has among the lowest drug prices in the world. That means that it would be in the interest of every drug company from another country to challenge New Zealand's drug pricing system as an impediment to profit-making under the agreement. In this example, the company "appealing" New Zealand's law and seeking "relief" would claim that it's a violation of the agreement. The company's challenge would then be adjudicated by an international tribunal. The tribunal would have the power to overrule the law in question, trump New Zealand's sovereignty and impose trade sanctions on the country for failing to abide by the tribunal's rulings. This process would create a lawless global pharmaceutical market and undermine the authority of national governments to regulate corporate behavior. As it happens, U.S. drug companies in the TPP talks have been sharply critical of New Zealand and have been leading the charge against Pharmac, the agency that manages New Zealand's prescription drug spending. To make matters worse, the pharmaceutical provisions being promoted by the U.S. trade representative would bind the U.S. to a 12-year market exclusivity period, otherwise called a monopoly, for brand-name biologics. Apparently the American trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, didn't get the memo to oppose an exclusivity period of this length because it's the exact opposite of President Obama's position as reflected in his budget proposal, which would reduce the exclusivity period to 7 years. This issue demonstrates how Big Pharma's drive for excessive profits comes at the expense of pretty much everything else. The purpose of patent exclusivity periods is to encourage research and innovation. But Big Pharma is going in the opposite direction. One half of scientifically innovative drugs approved in the U.S. from 1998 to 2007 resulted from research at universities and biotech firms, not big drug companies. And despite their rhetoric, drug companies spend 19 times more on marketing than on research and development. Opposition to the U.S. trade representative's pharmaceutical proposal for the TPP isgrowing. Fifteen organizations, including AARP, AFSCME, Consumers Union and other health and advocacy groups, sent President Obama a letter opposing the proposed drug industry rules. Led by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and George Miller (D-CA), more than150 House Democrats signed a letter to President Obama expressing "serious concern" about the fast-tracking of the TPP talks and the lack of congressional input. Versions of the pharmaceutical proposal being considered by the TPP are already includedin the trade agreement with Australia as well as the agreement with Korea. After TPP, which includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan, the next agreement on the agenda is with the European Union. If this cancer spreads, these trade agreements would eliminate the ability of nations to manage spending on prescription drugs in their public programs and seriously limit government efforts to hold down health cost growth. Governments would be powerless to do anything but pay the exorbitant prices the drug companies charge for their life-saving medicines. It would be an understatement to say these policies represent the wrong priorities. They elevate the greed of corporations above the best interests of the public. They're undemocratic. They shock the conscience. They must be stopped. If the Trans-Pacific "free trade" agreement allows drug companies to operate outside and above the laws of nation-states, global corporate interests would be free to undermine our health care system while consumers and governments would be free to do nothing about it.

More VA Kids Living in Low-Income Households

Icon November 13, 2013 - 16:01 By: Alison Burns Full article can be found by clicking here. RICHMOND, Va. - Although Virginia is considered one of the wealthiest states in the nation, it also has seen an increase in the percentage of kids living in poverty. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reveals that one in three Virginia children age 8 and younger is growing up in a low-income household. Emily Griffey, senior policy analyst for Voices for Virginia's Children, said most of them don't have access to preschool and are not prepared for kindergarten. "We think that further investments in early childhood will help all children in Virginia catch up and be ready for school, ready to learn," she said. She said she also hopes Virginia's new governor and Legislature will make early childhood education a top priority. "I think we're at a turning point, and we're envisioning that there can be bipartisan suppport for this issue," she said. "That is the Virginia way, and we hope to continue to demonstrate that." A bipartisan group of lawmakers is introducing legislation on Capitol Hill today that would dramatically expand access to preschool nationwide. Griffey said such efforts are critical for lifting children out of poverty. According to the Casey Foundation report, about 341,000 children ages 8 and younger live in low-income Virginia households, compared with 288,000 in 2005.

Food Stamp Cuts Kick In Today

Icon November 1, 2013 - 14:04 By: Alison Burns Full article and audio can be found by clicking here.  RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia families that are struggling financially will have less help affording food this month.  A 2009 Recovery Act boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, intended to assist families through the recession, expires today.  Amy Woolard, a policy analyst for Voices for Virginia's Children, says that means Virginia families will see a reduction in benefits of about 5.5 percent – or $36 dollars a month for a family of four. "So with benefits equating to only $4 per day, per person,” she says, “or about $1.40 per meal, that really means families and children will be struggling to make up several days worth of meals each month heading into winter." Woolard says most of the SNAP or food stamp recipients in Virginia are children, the elderly and disabled.  She's especially worried about the impact of less food on children's health. "Food insecurity leads to greater risk for things like childhood obesity, and other chronic conditions like asthma, anemia, pneumonia,” she explains. “And heading into flu season we need kids to be as healthy as they can be." Woolard adds food banks and other charity groups already are seeing an increase in demand.

CHN: Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections Extended to Home Care Workers

Icon September 23, 2013 - 20:41 On September 17, the US Department of Labor announced that it will extend minimum wage laws and overtime protection to all home care aides who care for the elderly and people with disabilities as of January 1, 2015. This measure will end a 38-year ruling that excluded home care workers from receiving these basic protections. Direct care work is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, and almost two million people will benefit from this policy change.  Aides help America’s elderly and disabled populations by assisting with daily tasks such as dressing or bathing, doing chores and administering medications in their homes. Currently, home care aides are preempted from receiving the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) and overtime protection because they are categorized as “companionship” workers – individuals who provide “companionship services for individuals who (because of age or infirmity) are unable to care for themselves” (as explained in this Huffington Postarticle). The need for revised regulations was underscored in 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled against Evelyn Coke, a New York home care worker who sued to reverse the federal regulations that exempt home care agencies from having to pay overtime. Advocates and labor leaders praise this long-awaited measure as a way to ensure that home care workers are provided the same legal protections as nurses who perform similar tasks in a hospital setting. With more minimum wage battles on the horizon, home care advocates and organizations like the Direct Care Alliance are happy to finally be able to claim victory with these regulations.

Left Out of Labor Day

Icon August 29, 2013 - 17:46 The Commonwealth Institute: Here’s something to wrap your mind around as we head into Labor Day weekend: unemployment is down in Virginia, but fewer people in the state’s economy are working. Virginia’s unemployment rate of 5.7 percent is down considerably from its peak of 7.4 percent during the winter of 2010. But fewer than 63 percent of working-age Virginians have a job. That’s down from over 67 percent just four years ago, before the recession decimated the state’s economy. The last time fewer Virginians were working was way back in 1982, when the unemployment rate was well over 7 percent. (See Figure 1.) How can we have a low unemployment rate at the same time that a smaller share of the working-age population is actually working? Here are two reasons. First, Virginia’s working-age population has increased over 8 percent since the start of the recession, but employment hasn’t kept pace. As shown in Figure 2 below, Virginia’s total employment has grown just under 2 percent since the recession officially began in December of 2007. Simply put, the pool of eligible workers grew faster than the jobs available for them. Second, Virginians are only counted as unemployed if they are available to work and actively seeking a job. If they stop looking for work, they are no longer considered unemployed and are dropped from the labor force, which is a key part of the unemployment rate calculation. So there you have it: when a Virginian looking for work loses hope and gives up, the unemployment rate drops, but so does another key barometer of economic health: the labor force participation rate. The fact that both of these numbers are dropping in Virginia is not a sign of progress. Growing numbers of working-age folks are sitting on the sidelines waiting to get in the game. We need to figure out how to take advantage of new opportunities and resources — like growing the “green economy” and expanding Medicaid — to create enough jobs to meet the need before more people take their ball and go home. —Sara Okos, Policy Director

Making Bank of America Pay Events

Icon April 16, 2013 - 20:03 Our friends at North Carolina Coalition Against Corporate Power are heading back to Bank of America to hold them accountable! Here is some information on how you can get involved: On MAY 8, we are calling on ALL regional activists to come to Charlotte NC, (aka “Wall Street South”) for the annual BoA Shareholder Meeting to show the big banks that they are not off the hook! The “Too Big To Fail Banks” are now bigger than ever and the consequences of this will be CATASTROPHIC. Let's not wait until the dam breaks. We are shaping public opinion- direct action, outreach, education, and media blitzes are working! A recent Rasmussen poll showed that HALF of Americans now want to break up the big banks. This is an amazing step forward! Let’s continue to build on this! While BoA can’t seem to pay taxes they've managed to be able to spend tens of millions of dollars retooling their image in an aggressive re-branding campaign; they want to get back into screwing working consumers and impressing their rich shareholders. The last thing they want on top of countless lawsuits is for us to continue changing public opinion. We may not have millions of dollars, but we have YOU! Join us in Charlotte to protest at the Annual Shareholders Meeting. Be creative! Be civil! Be there! Tell the Justice Department: No Banker is too big to Jail!  Break-Up the Big Banks! No more foreclosures… period.  BoA needs to Pay: no more tax breaks for fraudulent banks and Wall St corps while cutting benefits for seniors, children in poverty, and disabled vets! Stop financing dirty coal! Facebook Event RSVP:  

Reflections on Wal-Mart

Icon January 2, 2013 - 14:55 By Marquita Hill Published December 2, 2012 by the Roanoke Times at For two quarters, they'd get a raise On “Black Friday” some Walmart employees around the nation, for the first time, held a strike. Walmart workers earn so little that many must resort to public assistance such as food stamps or, if ill, Medicaid. So, you as a shopper may “save” when you shop at Walmart, but you, as a member of the public pay to help many Walmart employees. Meanwhile, the six Walton heirs hold more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined. Yet Walmart Corporation scorns efforts to increase employee wages and is ferociously anti-union. Its attitude is that workers should be grateful to have a job. A University of California study calculated that if each person paid an average of 46 cents more each trip to Walmart, this would provide enough to pay the average employee $12 an hour (instead of the current $8.81). If Walmart itself paid half of that 46 cents from its own great profits, it would cost shoppers only 23 cents extra per visit. If boosting Walmart employees into a livable wage range would require so little, why isn’t it happening? Almost every American can understand what fairness means. Why can’t Walmart?

Study: ALEC's Advice to States on Jobs Is Actually a Recipe for Stagnation and Wage Suppression

Icon November 30, 2012 - 15:03 Washington, DC, November 28, 2012--A new study finds that state tax and regulatory policies recommended by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) fail to promote stronger job creation or income growth, and actually predict a worse performance. Since ALEC first published its annual Rich States, Poor States study with its Economic Outlook Ranking in 2007, states that were rated better have actually done worse economically. Those are the key findings of "Selling Snake Oil to the States," a study published today by Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project and freely available online at . It was released at a press conference the same week ALEC holds its annual fall meeting in Washington, DC. "We tested ALEC's claims against actual economic results," said Dr. Peter Fisher, primary author of the study. "We conclude that eliminating progressive taxes, suppressing wages, and cutting public services are actually a recipe for economic inequality, declining incomes, and undermining public infrastructure and education that really matter for long-term economic growth." The study dissects the methodology used by ALEC's lead author Arthur Laffer and his co-authors. It finds that their arguments and evidence range from deeply flawed to nonexistent, consistently ignoring decades of peer-reviewed academic research. Instead, Laffer et al repeatedly engage in methodologically primitive approaches such as two-factor correlations and comparing arbitrary small numbers of states instead of all 50. The study finds that the composition of a state's economy-whether it has disproportionate shares of high-growth or low-growth industries-was a far better predictor of a state's relative success over the past five years. "State corporate income taxes average less than one-fifth of one percent of the average company's costs." said Fisher. "The ALEC/Laffer studies would have state leaders ignore site-location basics and disinvest public goods that benefit all employers." Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan partisan resource promoting accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families. It was founded in 1998 and is based in Washington, DC. The Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization promoting public policy that fosters economic opportunity while safeguarding the health and well-being of Iowa's people and environment. It was formed in 2001 and is based in Iowa City.