The WTO GATS and Health Care Policy

States are increasingly playing a greater role in determining the future of health care in the United States. Pending resolution of the federal gridlock on health care, states have been stepping forward to confront the challenges of rising health care costs and shrinking coverage by implementing statewide reforms. As these efforts experiment with new relationships between the private and public sector, states will need flexibility to implement real reforms that improve access and cost of health care. Unfortunately, federal trade negotiators are bargaining away the ability of state governments to tackle our health care crisis by committing U.S. health-related services, prescription drug distribution, and health insurance to binding GATS rules.

The GATS represents a 180 degree turn from the U.S. approach to health care policy − away from regulating industries for the benefit of the consumer and towards regulating governments for the benefit of industries. Effectively, GATS places binding restrictions on the exercise of democracy in order to promote the agenda of giant financial and insurance firms. These GATS commitments will limit the ability of federal and state governments to adopt innovative solutions to some of our most pressing health care problems, including creating low cost health care alternatives for working families and addressing the high cost of prescription medicines.