Fighting the Backlash: Covid driven health privatisation has started

PSI delivered a powerful message yesterday to the OECD, Ministers and senior government officials: Privatisation weakness health care and undermines our Covid efforts.

The OECD Round Table on Investment and Sustainable Development aims to “support policy coherence and maximise the role of private investment as a catalyst for sustainable development”.

Its second session for 2020 asked can “private provision of healthcare goods and services – in particular by foreign investors – improve resilience and accessibility of health systems”. But it quickly became a sales pitch for private health owned by foreign investors as the answer to our health care needs.

Multiple speakers, including Olga Stampfer, Vice President, UnitedHealthGroup, the largest Healthcare company in the world with revenue of over 242 Billion USD, argued that governments don’t have the resources to fund health care and the only solution is to invite foreign investors to provide private care.

PSI’s Assistant General Secretary, Daniel Bertossa was one of the few voices pointing out that the OECD's own statistics show that private health care was both more expensive and less effective than public provision.

“If governments have spending constraints then the last thing they should do is encourage expensive private health care that crowds out more efficient public health care and sends profits to tax havens," Bertossa said.

Bertossa also highlighted how the wealth to fund public health already exists - but requires improved progressive taxation.

“Unions and the community must all be aware that the corporate backlash has already begun. Even while thousands continue to die of Covid - the corporate ambulance chasers have started their campaign to convince governments that privatise health care is the answer”.

Speaking at the forum on behalf of PSI and the OECD's Trade Union Advisory Committee, he said “Despite some of the overly rosy presentations today, COVID has demonstrated the deep flaws of private involvement in health care provision and has contributed to thousands of avoidable deaths”.

He pointed out that the failures of global supply chains to provide PPE and respirators, failed privatised track and trace systems and massive outsourcing that hollowing out public health provision have had tragic consequences that should not be swept under the carpet. He also noted that privatised aged care was at the centre of many tragic preventable deaths and have been at the heart of outbreaks from Melbourne, Australia to Ontario, Canada when in these countries public aged care has had few or no deaths.

“Nobody should be surprised that when you put profit over people these tragedies occur.”

Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary said

“With rising debt and slow economic growth we must all stay vigilant and fightback against the corporate re-writing of history. PSI will continue to take the voice of health workers to highest halls of international power to remind them that we will never let them forget the painful lessons of Covid and we must build back better”.

PSI noted at the forum that the OECD background note failed to point out the risks of PPPs in the OECDs own guidelines, that the IMF has stated clearly that PPPs should not be promoted as a way to get debt of government books and quoted PSIRU research showing that privatisation is one of the largest systematic enablers of corruption. PSI also called for full public sector carve outs in trade agreements and repeal of the discredited Investor State Dispute mechanism.

“The OECD must not uncritically repeat corporate propaganda and present it as facts to our governments”, Bertossa said before thanking TUAC for their support at the meeting.