21 May The Body: In the Senate, the 340B Drug Pricing Program Finds More Backers Than Detractors
“It is not an easy thing for a Ryan White clinic or community health center to serve the needs of all their clients who are living with or affected by HIV. In fact, in the current political climate where receiving level funding year after year is often the best-case scenario, providing the extensive amount of care required is often impossible. That most Ryan White clinics and community health centers have been able to survive and even expand during these lean budgetary times is remarkable.
In many cases, such success has only been achievable through the utilization of the 340B Drug Pricing program, which enable Ryan White clinics, community health centers and safety net hospitals that serve vulnerable populations to purchase certain medications from pharmaceutical companies at a reduced cost while being reimbursed for the full cost of the drug, allowing them to spend the savings on additional care and services for their clients. Despite the tremendous success of the program — or perhaps because of it — and courtesy of a substantial lobbying push from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the 340B program has found itself under close scrutiny by a slew of Congressional committees.
Earlier this week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee (HELP) held their second hearing this year on the 340B Drug Pricing program and heard testimony from representatives from the Office of the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office on the 340B program. For the most part, the testimony from these federal officials revolved around 2 issues: 1) a desire to see increased transparency from both the safety net hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in the program (Ryan White clinics and community health centers already face stringent reporting requirements), and 2) wanting to ensure that the 340B program stayed to true its original intended purpose to “stretch scarce federal resources as far as possible, reaching more eligible patients and providing more comprehensive services.”
The responses and questioning from the members of the Senate HELP committee were largely supportive of the safety net hospitals and other entities benefiting from the 340B program, with the bulk of the committee’s ire saved for the pharmaceutical industry and, in the case of the Democrats who spoke, the Trump administration’s handling of the issue. Throughout the course of the hearing, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) repeatedly stressed the fact that the Trump administration had delayed the implementation of a rule to ensure that drug companies could not overcharge hospitals or clinics for the drugs they sell them until July of 2019. In their eyes, such actions removed any legitimacy from the speech President Trump gave on lowering drug prices the previous week.”