Community Health Centers on Pandemic Front Lines | 340B Matters
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21 Apr Community Health Centers on Pandemic Front Lines

By 340B Matters

While safety-net hospitals have been bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, another cadre of invaluable providers is also on the front line — community health centers.

These Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) receive government funding to provide primary care services in underserved areas. Currently, there are about 14,000 across the country.  They include migrant health centers, homeless health care centers and health centers for residents in public housing.

The FQHCs are also part of the 340B drug discount program that requires pharmaceutical companies to sell medications for less to providers that serve large, low-income populations. Health centers of all stripes use the savings to provide free and sliding-scale services as well no-cost medications to patients.

These clinics are providing coronavirus testing and other medical services in current COVID-19 hotspots in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Community clinics are key to keeping nearby hospitals from getting overwhelmed with coronavirus patients who don’t require hospitalization. Many are offering telehealth services to help avoid in-person visits.

St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles has been wrestling with the pandemic’s effects on the city’s homeless population. It is providing isolation tents to test and treat patients but resources remain a problem.

Community health centers in Washington are under heavy stress and have been forced to redesign how they treat patients in order to avoid full waiting rooms.

“We pride ourselves on being a primary care home,” Esther Johnston, MD told Kaiser Health News.  Johnston works at Healthpoint, a FQHC in Auburn, Wash. “We don’t have enough N95 masks, nor, to be honest, were we prepared for a situation where everyone had to be properly fitted.”

As these and other community health centers around the country battle the pandemic, Big Pharma is busy spending millions of dollars in Washington, DC to protect its interests. That includes an ongoing lobbying attack on the 340B program that is helping to keep health centers open. It seems the industry’s excessive profits just aren’t enough, so it needs to kill a program that helps the poor.

Doing it during a national health crisis is the definition of shameful.

It’s time for Big Pharma to end its campaign against the 340B drug discount program and the health care providers it supports.

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