What’s at stake in effort to diminish 340B program
Every day millions more patients who should take prescription drugs do not because of the high cost. Too many people—particularly those most vulnerable in society—are forced to choose between life’s basic necessities—food, shelter, clothing— and their health because they cannot afford their prescribed medications.
At Ascension Health, the nation’s largest not-for-profit health system, we’re doing our part to make sure patients in need don’t have to make choices. It’s pretty straightforward: Diabetics should have access to insulin; cancer patients should have access to chemotherapy; those suffering from chronic high blood pressure should have access to medicines to prevent sudden cardiac arrest, strokes and aneurysms. This is part of our mission.
But we cannot do it alone. We need the help of the pharmaceutical industry to ensure the poor and vulnerable can access the medications they need. Since 1992, this has been possible because of the 340B drug-pricing program, which requires drug manufacturers to provide reduced- cost drugs to safety net hospitals that treat a large number of uninsured and poor patients.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, which regulates 340B, program drugs amount to only 2% of all medicines purchased in the U.S. But because drug companies have become less willing to share their profits with those in need, access to the program is at risk.
At Ascension, 41 of our hospitals participate in 340B—of these, 23 are critical-access and 11 are disproportionate-share facilities. Participation from these hospitals in 340B allowed us to save $97 million on drugs last year, which we reinvested in programs that treat the poor and vulnerable.
We know that 340B makes an impact in our participating hospitals. The program cuts costs for a three-month supply of a cholesterol-lowering drug from $700 to just $60. A 15-day supply of an injectable form of insulin drops from over $400 to $16.
The bottom line: 340B is a vital, successful program that allows hospitals to help underserved patients with the high cost of drugs, and sustains medical services direly needed within the community. Any efforts to diminish 340B will only leave our most vulnerable citizens with less access to the medication and the quality healthcare they desperately need.
Bob Henkel is CEO of Ascension Health.