Community health centers seek additional protections from drugmakers

By Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Connection

Community health centers are asking state and federal lawmakers for additional protections against drugmakers for drastically excluding them from a federal drug rebate program.

The 340B Drug Pricing Program allows health centers to purchase outpatient drugs at reduced costs, so they can then provide them to more patients while pharmaceutical companies are reimbursed. But over the past two years, drug producers and third-party prescription drug benefit managers have restricted the centers, threatening their financial stability.

A survey by the National Association of Community Health Centers shows that more than half of their patients would go without necessary medications, including insulin for diabetic patients and inhalers for children with asthma, if they were excluded from the program.

Ben Browning, vice president and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, explained the importance of the program.

“These contractual arrangements are really the cornerstone,” Browning argued. “They are the lifeline for many patients who otherwise might not have access to these discounted, discounted drugs.”

But Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug manufacturing industry’s lobbying arm, countered that the program needed to change, saying there was little to no evidence that patients benefited. They are also asking the centers to share data in an effort to combat potential fraud and abuse in the system.

Browning argued that the centers continue to meet a critical need because many health care providers lack the financial resources to support an in-house pharmacy. The survey showed that 86% of health centers use contract pharmacies, allowing them to serve hundreds of postcodes.

“Put protections in the law, in the regulations, in the law, that say the 340B program is an essential part of the health care system,” Browning urged. “This is an essential part of maintaining and securing the safety net.”

It is estimated that enrolled hospitals and other entities covered in 340B can achieve average savings of 25% to 50% on pharmaceutical purchases. The issue is also playing out in court with conflicting rulings across the country.

Disclosure: The National Association of Community Health Centers contributes to our fund for reporting on policy and budget priorities, and health issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Maria J. Book