Drug Manufacturers Risk Lives by Refusing To Honor Prescription Drug Program

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Nancy J. Stern and Matthew W. Clay

Eastern Shore Rural Health System Inc. low-income patients are threatened by prescription drug manufacturers who are violating the federal 340B discount drug program statute and
have abruptly stopped shipping discounted drugs to health centers’ contracted pharmacies. At Eastern Shore Rural Health 4,791 patients are uninsured or underinsured and 20,069 are at or below 200% of poverty (for example a family of four with a total income of $52,400 is at 200% of poverty).

Across the country, millions of patients’ lives are at stake and health center operations and budgets face possible devastation amid an overwhelming public health pandemic. Community Health Centers like Eastern Shore Rural Health rely on this program to make medications affordable for patients, and to generate savings used to expand access to other services. Over the past two years, Rural Health has used 340B savings to add eight dental chairs, expand behavioral health services, and add 12 providers to staff.

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) estimates that 10 million low-income patients will suffer reduced access to health center services and affordable medicine unless the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acts now to address the threats to the program from prescription drug manufacturers. NACHC has sued to force the HHS to implement a long-delayed dispute resolution process that would allow health centers to act against drug companies violating the 340B statute. If this threat is not resolved, prices patients pay may jump; for example a health center patient may pay up to $600 for a 30-day supply of insulin that used to cost $17, according to NACHC. Rayfield’s Pharmacy recently ran a report finding that, in the last 6 months, the $1,000 that Rural Health patients paid in copays would have been $34,000 without this program.

While HHS has signaled some disapproval of recent manufacturers’ practices, no action has been taken despite concerns raised by hundreds of bipartisan members of Congress. Go to https://www.hcadvocacy.org/340b-advocacy/email/ to learn how to protect this program.

Nancy J. Stern is outgoing CEO of Eastern Shore Rural Health System Inc. She is retiring in December after 37 years with the organization, 20 of them as its chief executive officer.

Matthew W. Clay is the new CEO of Eastern Shore Rural Health System Inc.