Albany Times Union
Prescription policy will cripple community health centers
Almost 8 million New Yorkers are enrolled in Medicaid. A misguided policy about to take effect on April 1 will create needless suffering for them. And this change will not only impact the poor: When it’s implemented, many New Yorkers – including the middle class – can expect a tax increase and a less effective health care system.
New York state wants to control how people access prescription drugs, which will undermine a federal program called 340B. Currently, pharmaceutical companies doing business with Medicaid provide large discounts to community health centers, which then get reimbursed for the medicines at higher rates. The system allow these centers to both derive revenue and provide consumers with low-cost prescription medications. Hundreds of community health centers throughout the state routinely use 340B program savings to improve services without jeopardizing financial stability.
But the state is about to take over prescription purchasing, and has promised to make community health centers financially whole for the loss of 340B savings. Really? How is that money going to be distributed? That hasn’t been explained. And consider that California, which implemented a similar plan in January, has yet to distribute any money to non-hospital health centers.
This shell game would cause serious budget shortfalls for New York centers. They will slash clinic hours because there will be fewer dentists, doctors, pharmacists, and outreach and support staff. Mortality and morbidity rates will increase.
Less care at community health centers means greater emergency room use. Understaffed without the benefit of prescription drug savings, centers will be forced to turn away people in need. In 2022, the average ER visit in New York state cost $1,668. Care provided at a community health center is a fraction of the cost.
As CEO of a health center serving over 20,000 patients in Schenectady and Montgomery counties, I fear that this plan will irreparably harm community health centers and health care delivery statewide. Fortunately, some lawmakers have called for a repeal. The Legislature must act quickly, but it is not too late to stop this obvious and preventable mistake.