Common Sense Fixes Needed to Maintain Health Care Program for the Uninsured

Kyle Keeney, Kentucky Life Science Council

Everyone involved in America’s health care industry should be united around one goal: saving lives. Strip away the politics, policies, regulations and costs; our collective mission should always be providing the best possible care and medicines to patients, regardless of their economic situation.

In 1992, Congress wisely created a program to do just that. The 340B drug discount program was intended to help vulnerable or uninsured patients gain access to life-saving care and prescription medications by ensuring that both hospitals and drug manufacturers shared in the cost.  This was accomplished by requiring drug manufacturers to discount prescription medications sold to these qualifying providers.

Unfortunately, the program has strayed far from its original mission due to insufficient oversight. Too often today, large hospitals and health systems – not patients – are reaping the benefits by exploiting various profit-friendly loopholes. Meanwhile, the rest of us are picking up the tab in terms of higher insurance premiums and ever-increasing copays for medications.

Many hospitals have become adept at taking advantage of the 340B program because it allows them to acquire drugs at discounts as high as 50 percent – savings that they often do not pass on to their patients. Hospitals increase their bottom line under 340B, but needy patients miss out on the benefits.

After more than twenty years, Congress is taking steps to ensure this program will get back to serving its original purpose. Indiana Congressman Larry Bucshon (R-IN-08) and California Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA-52) filed bipartisan legislation called the “340B Protecting Access for the Underserved and Safety-Net Entities Act,” or “340B PAUSE Act”. This bill will put a two-year pause on new enrollment of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) and any new offsite facilities of these hospitals in the 340B program. It will also require basic data reporting from hospitals, making those reporting requirements more in-line with those of other 340B participants.

Perhaps most importantly, the bill will increase accountability by making most newly reported data publicly available. It will help strengthen government oversight and identify key areas in need of fixing, while protecting critical access hospitals, rural referral centers, and community hospitals.

In its current form, the 340B drug discount program is neither sustainable nor fair to those who are trying to adhere to its true intent. Kentucky’s life science community supports 340B and wants to ensure its long-term viability as a tool for helping vulnerable populations access the prescription medicines they depend on. We simply want all sides to play fair and use the program the way Congress intended: as a safety net, not a profit center.

We encourage Congress to pass the 340B PAUSE Act that will enable the 340B drug discount program to continue helping those in need long into the future.

Dr. Kyle Keeney: Dr. Kyle Keeney is Executive Director of the Kentucky Life Sciences Council.

KLSC works with industry and government leaders to promote effective legislation that encourages investment and innovation in the sciences.