The soaring cost of prescription drugs threatens access to life-saving medications for millions of people across the country and thousands of Hoosiers here at home. For these vulnerable patients, safety net health care providers — supported by the 340B Drug Pricing Program — make all the difference.
Established in 1992, the 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in government programs to sell drugs at discounted prices to facilities that care for many low-income and uninsured patients and those that serve rural communities. Because 340B is funded by drug company discounts, not federal dollars, the program doesn’t cost taxpayers one cent — but it makes a significant difference to vulnerable communities.
340B hospitals provided $51.7 billion in community benefits nationally in 2015 alone. 340B allows hospitals to stretch their resources and provide more comprehensive services to those in need.
In our state, hospitals from St. Catherine Regional in urban Lake County to Perry County Memorial Hospital in rural southern Indiana rely on the 340B program to provide free services to low-income patients and deliver high-quality services to those who need it most. The cost savings help sustain community outreach initiatives such as vaccinations and transportation for follow up appointments, and provide increased access to services like clinical pharmacy programs. In central Indiana, St. Vincent’s Joshua Max Simon Primary Care has hired pharmacists who educate medical residents and serve patients through disease-specific education, medication therapy management, and anticoagulation services. Because of 340B, hospitals are able to help many patients with chronic health conditions who might go untreated and risk their long-term health if they had to pay retail prices.
But attacks on the program threaten hospitals’ ability to offer these expanded services.
Last November, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized a rule reducing Medicare payments to hospitals for prescription drugs purchased under the 340B program by nearly 30 percent, or $1.6 billion, which curtails the buying power the 340B program could have for patients. This is despite the fact the 340B program constitutes less than 2.8 percent of the $457 billion in annual U.S. drug purchases and achieves savings for hospitals.
Legislation has also been introduced in Congress that would limit participation in the program and require new reporting. While hospitals absolutely support transparency, it is needed in all aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Patients deserve a broader solution to expensive drug prices, not a solution that only places a greater administrative burden on the current system.
If this vital program is scaled back, the impact would be far-reaching for hospitals and devastating to many patients. Congress must act to preserve the 340B program, protect access to care, and find comprehensive solutions to ensure those most in need can afford the medications necessary to live a healthier life.
Julie Brackemyre, Indiana Hospital Association