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A vital safety-net program

By AHA STAT Staff
July 20, 2017

The exorbitant cost of many prescription drugs threatens providers’ ability to provide life-saving medications for millions of Americans.

That is why the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which provides discounts on drugs to some health care providers who serve large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients, is so critical.

Efforts to scale back or eliminate it are the wrong prescription for advancing the health of underserved communities, and vulnerable patients would be the ones who suffer That is the message we delivered to the House Energy & Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in a statement for the panel’s July 18 hearing on the program.

Congress created the 340B program 25 years ago to give eligible health care providers financial relief from high prescription drug prices. Providers use the savings they receive on the discounted drugs to provide local access to drugs and treatments for cancer patients, clinical pharmacy services, community outreach programs, free vaccinations, transportation to patients for follow-up appointments and many other services to their communities.  

Despite the 340B program’s proven track record of increasing patient access to vital medical services and decreasing government spending, some are calling for changes.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently called for a sharp reduction in hospitals 340B drug payments as part of its proposed outpatient prospective payment system rule for 2018.

CMS argues that its proposal will help address the high cost of prescription drugs. But the reality is that most seniors will not see a substantial change in drug costs by cutting Medicare payments for hospitals serving poor and vulnerable people. And while the agency’s proposal may be part of a solution to reining in drug costs, it does nothing to advance efforts to expand vulnerable patients’ access to affordable drugs.

Of course, the cost of prescription drugs is rising at an alarming rate. But that is not the fault of the 340B program, which accounts for less than 3% of the pharmaceutical industry’s $457 billion in U.S. sales.  Factors like consolidation among pharmaceutical companies and tactics that delay entrance of lower-cost generics have led to steep increases in the price of prescription drugs.  

So, we are understandably troubled when the pharmaceutical industry and its supporters continue to make unsubstantiated claims about the program to persuade Congress to scale it back significantly or eliminate it altogether.  

Such action would force hospitals to curtail or even eliminate services that are essential to keeping patients and communities healthy.

Congress should heed the concerns of providers on the front lines of care – and toss aside the arguments of those who wish only to add to the record profits of pharmaceutical companies.

Preserve the 340B program. Protect the safety net upon which our most vulnerable patients rely.

 

Topic: Access and Coverage
Tags: 340B, access


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