Just days after my blog posting about the disastrous pro-market reforms being pushed in England by, among others, the giant American insurer UnitedHealth Group, a coalition of U.S. health care corporations announced that they plan to export the U.S. “health ecosystem” around the globe.

It’s very telling that they try to hide their impact at home – the world’s highest costs, 50 million uninsured, 45,000 deaths a year due to lack of coverage, last or nearly last on every measure of quality, an epidemic of medical bankruptcy and adverse drug and device side effects – behind a green “ecosystem” disguise.

In a nod to the likelihood that other nations may not want to import our defective, overpriced insurance and other products and services, the Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness is calling on the U.S. government to create a new “Ambassador-level Special Negotiator for Health Industries” to push new international trade rules eliminating tariffs and other forms of discrimination to the entry of American health care corporations abroad.

In other words, they want the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative – acting through the World Trade Organization (WTO) – to force other nations to open up their national health systems to U.S. for-profit insurers, hospitals, professionals, medical device makers, pharmaceutical firms, IT companies and other investor-owned firms, regardless of their impact on health, welfare, or other social goals.

Under AHC’s proposal, there would even be a “special focus for telemedicine, enabling providers to export services across borders.”

AHC’s main weapon at the WTO is the benign-sounding General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).  GATS is one of the most controversial WTO agreements, and beefing it up has long been an ambition of U.S. negotiators.

In the late 1990’s, according to Nicholas Skala, “U.S. negotiators were insistent on including services in the WTO treaty, but other nations perceived how far-reaching such an agreement could be.  Allowing service sectors to be bound in the same way as goods would dramatically extend the reach of commercial trade rules favoring markets and privatization into areas traditionally seen as essential to the public welfare:  education, social security, libraries, mail service, people and fire protection, water, energy, telecommunications, transportation, and health care.” (Skala, N. “The Potential Impact of the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services on Health System Reform and Regulation in the United States” IJHS, 39:2 2009; posted on-line soon at www.pnhp.org).

Skala noted that GATS not only has the potential to undermine other nation’s health systems, it could also harm health system reform and regulation in the U.S., for example, by preventing a “monopoly” like a single payer insurance system, or barring regulation of investor-owned hospitals.

International instruments that recognize and protect the human and social value of health care like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are not binding on the WTO, which places commercial interests above nearly all other values.

Simon Stevens, UnitedHealth’s president of global affairs and a founder of the Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness (AHC), has long been a key figure in promoting pro-market health reform in the U.K., even serving as health minister to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.   His experience in the U.K. has no doubt fueled his interest in profiting from health systems around the world, but can only reach fruition if the U.S. government forces acceptance of our dysfunctional “health ecosystem” by both developed and developing nations.

It’s understandable that U.S. corporations are seeking new markets in the public and private sectors abroad.  Employer-sponsored health coverage in the U.S. is plummeting while public coverage is expanding.  Humana already makes nearly all its profits from its Medicare Advantage plans.

There is a growing movement to stop the privatization and corporate-takeover of health care in the U.K. and internationally.   PNHP member Dr. Matt Anderson from Montefiore medical center in the Bronx spoke recently at the International Association of Health Policy meeting in Ankara, Turkey, along with New Mexico PNHP member Dr. Howard Waitzkin.  Save our NHS’s Dr. Jacqueline Davis will be a featured speaker at the upcoming PNHP meeting in Washington, DC on Saturday October 29.

As U.S. corporations seek to change trade rules to privilege their profits over the health of people around the globe, PNHP’s work takes on a global urgency.