No Need For Australia To Join International Agreement On Health Care Services – 14 October 1999

Any attempt to have Australia commit to an agreement for health care services at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle in November 1999 should be rejected until there has been a full and open public debate in Australia as to the likely consequences of such an agreement on privacy, health care standards, and the public hospital system said Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director, Australian Doctors’ Fund.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has confirmed that the agreement is on the agenda for discussion at the WTO along with many other services but at this stage there are no plans to sign an agreement, merely to bring back to Australia what is being proposed for further discussion.

According to an ambitious plan being pushed by a group known as the US Coalition of Service Industries (USCSI), which represents some of the biggest Managed Health Care corporations in the USA, some of the objectives of the proposed international health care agreement would be to:

  • Allow majority foreign ownership of health care facilities.
  • Obtain a commitment for the cross-border provision and transfer of health care information.
  • Negotiate Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for licensing of professionals and cooperative agreements on regulation of facilities.
  • Develop principles to guide regulators so as to minimize unnecessary costs on trade and investment in the health care sector.
  • Simplify regulations and provide transparency for movement of personnel, both professionals and patients.

The USCSI laments the existence of “excessive privacy and confidentiality regulations” in health care and “public ownership of health care has made it difficult for U.S. private-sector health care providers to market in foreign countries.”

“The proposed international health care agreement bears similarity to the previous Multinational Agreement on Investment (MAI). It seems quite a blatant attempt to increase US corporations’ market share of the international health care dollar,” said Australian Doctors’ Fund Research Director, Mr Glen Ramos.

“Australia already has some overseas investment in the health care industry within its existing regulatory framework. The threat of this proposed agreement is that along with unrestricted US investment will come demands for fundamental changes to the way Australian patients are cared for in order to meet US corporate profit objectives.”

“The American public has demanded and now obtained federal legislation to sue these corporations for damages inflicted on patients by rationing and denial of care in the pursuit of profits.”

“The Australian Doctors’ Fund is doing everything it can to stop American Managed Care disease infecting Australia,” said Mr Ramos.