Yesterday John Key indicated that he might be willing to dismantle PHARMAC if it gets us a better free trade deal with the US*.
We’re lucky to have a few great institutions in New Zealand that deliver for everyone at a lower cost than other countries – ACC is one, PHARMAC is another. both are on National’s chopping block.
PHARMAC’s funding programme saved New Zealand $2 billion in medicine purchases in its first decade of operation (I haven’t been able to find a cumulative total after 2003). Thanks to PHARMAC we only need to spend 12% of our health budget on drugs, rather than 18% like the Aussies – all those savings go into improving health-care. And Key seems willing to give it up. I guess it’s hard for him to appreciate the value to ordinary New Zealanders of subsidised medicine and better public healthcare.
Let’s be clear. We do not have to give up PHARMAC to get a free trade deal. In reality no free trade deal short of a EU-style common market completely removes all barriers to trade. Australia won’t even let in our apples despite Closer Economic Relations. All countries go into these things with certain non-negotiable points. In any deal with the US we just have to say from the start that PHARMAC stays. We can have a free trade deal without losing PHARMAC and the savings it delivers to New Zealanders.
But I suspect that Key would put no such condition on negotiations with the US. Although National set up PHARMAC in 1993 and they have no official policy to dismantle it, the neoliberal ideology now firmly cemented within National means they are reflexively opposed to public monopolies, even though they work.
*[frankly, I don’t see negiotations for an FTA getting underway any time soon, anyway. Sure, Obama said he supports the idea but he’s got bigger fish to fry and he doesn’t need to piss off his base]