Setting the Record Straight on Drug Discounts
By Ted Slafsky
On behalf of the safety net hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of America’s most vulnerable and low-income patients, we are writing to express our disappointment over a recent opinion piece in The Gilmer Mirror regarding the 340B drug discount program (Peter Pitts, “Low-Cost Drugs, Ill-Gotten Gains,” August 28).
Twenty years ago, President George H.W. Bush and a bipartisan group of lawmakers enacted the 340B law. In its most simple terms, it requires pharmaceutical companies with profits in the billions to give their best prices to the hospitals and other health care providers that the poor, the uninsured, and the underinsured turn to when for-profit providers say to them, "Sorry, but you're not my problem. Go somewhere else." Since that time, Congress has voted repeatedly with strong bipartisan support to expand 340B to rural, pediatric, and certain cancer hospitals that treat high numbers of these patients.
Stretching resources, reaching more vulnerable patients and providing better services is precisely what safety-net hospitals across America do with their 340B savings. They use them to provide prescription drugs for free or at a discount; offer medication management and clinical pharmacy services; increase the number of patients their pharmacies can serve; avoid restrictive drug formularies; reduce patient wait times and extend pharmacy hours. This is just as Congress originally intended.
With regards to the recent opinion piece, we are disappointed that The Gilmer Mirror did not disclose that Mr. Pitts’s group, the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, according to extensive reporting in national publications. CMPI’s tax filings cleverly conceal this information. Nor did your paper disclose that Mr. Pitts has spent his career as a public relations executive for the drug industry.
Furthermore, it is both disingenuous and offensive to claim that patients are being taken advantage of through the 340B program, as Mr. Pitts does. Documented, independent research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows that 340B hospitals use their savings to improve health care services and lower the costs of medicines for patients.
If Mr. Pitts would like to truly address the critical issue of the high cost of medicine, he should look no further than his funders in the pharmaceutical industry. Spending on pharmaceuticals in the United States topped $325 billion in 2012 and is projected to skyrocket in the coming years. With profit margins regularly hitting 30 percent, it’s clear that high prices are denying patients access to their medicines, not their local hospitals.
In Texas alone, there are a number of hospitals that benefit from 340B, including several public and religious-based institutions. We suggest that anyone with questions about the program visit them to learn more about the work they do and the patients they serve.
340B is a small program with huge benefits. Without it, many of our nation’s most vulnerable patients would have nowhere to turn to for life-saving medicines and services. To learn more about the 340B program, visit 340BFacts.com.
Ted Slafsky is President and Chief Executive Officer of Safety Net Hospitals for Pharmaceutical Access, a national association of nearly 1,000 hospitals enrolled in the 340B drug discount program.