Commentary: Loopholes in 340B drug discount program need fixes

In this Aug. 5, 2010 file photo, a pharmacy technician poses for a picture with hydrocodone and acetaminophen tablets, also known as Vicodin, at the Oklahoma Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Created in 1992 by Congress, the 340B drug discount program started with an important purpose but has recently veered off course.

Under its stated mission, 340B is an important tool in aiding uninsured or vulnerable patients with access to affordable prescriptions by providing eligible clinics and hospitals with discounted medicines through the program. No longer functioning as intended, the time has come to get 340B on course so it can improve the lives and health of America’s neediest patients.

The 340B drug discount program was established to be a safety net for healthcare facilities in Utah, and nationwide, that serve uninsured or poor communities. It provides health care facilities discounted prescription drugs from manufacturers so these entities can pass these discounts on to vulnerable patients. Local community health centers, health clinics and children’s hospitals are some examples of the safety net providers that serve patients through the 340B program.

Unfortunately, there are some large corporate health care companies that are taking advantage of the lax guidelines and loopholes in the program. Instead of providing discounted drugs to the patients in need and increasing charity care for the uninsured and disadvantaged, they keep program profits for themselves,

This is a well-intentioned government program with many shortcomings contributing to the issues we’re seeing today. They include unclear criteria, lax guidelines, and minimal requirements for what program participants do with the savings.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and other members of Utah’s congressional delegation must examine 340B, increase oversight, and provide clarity to improve 340B’s mission of helping patients. I encourage Hatch to join many of his colleagues as well as community partners who are also calling for much needed reform.

As Utah’s Legislature, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and other cities throughout Utah join in a major effort to help Utah’s homeless and disadvantaged, we can’t lose sight of needed reforms to programs designed to provide charity care resources to our communities. If 340B is improved and operating as intended, it will provide a major benefit to the Rio Grande effort.

I urge Congress to fix the 340B program to ensure it fulfills its goal of encouraging better public health outcomes for our vulnerable and uninsured communities in Utah and across the nation.

Chuck Warren

Chuck Warren is Managing Director of September Group, LLC a public affairs, crisis communication and initiative qualification company.

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