As our nation continues to fight a global pandemic, the need for access to affordable and quality health care feels even more pressing. This is especially true for vulnerable patients who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. That’s why it has never been more important for policymakers to ensure federal programs, like the 340B program, are benefiting the safety net that serves our underserved communities. Unfortunately, nearly three decades after it was originally created, the 340B program no longer resembles its original mission.
While the 340B program was created to help vulnerable patients, it is unclear if patients are in fact benefiting today. Instead, the program has evolved to financially benefit many covered entities, for-profit pharmacies and other middlemen, leaving behind the patients it is meant to serve and threatening the sustainability of the program for true safety-net entities that provide much-needed care to vulnerable communities.
The current 340B program attracts hospitals, clinics and for-profit pharmacies because it is easy for them to use the program as a slush fund to benefit their bottom lines, diverting money that could be used to help patients get better care and afford their medicines. As a result, 340B has changed and expanded dramatically since its establishment. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- The 340B program is now the second largest federal prescription drug program, surpassing Medicare Part B, Medicaid and VA / Tricare / DOD, but there has not been commensurate growth in care for vulnerable patients.
- Half of all hospitals in the United States participate in the 340B program, but roughly two-thirds of those hospitals provide charity care below the national average of 2.7% for all hospitals, including for-profit hospitals.
- According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, discounted 340B purchases in 2019 amounted to $29.9 billion, but watchdog reports indicate too many patients are missing out. Evidence shows these discounts provided by manufacturers are often not making their way to patients.
Enough is enough. We must stop abuses of the 340B program by covered entities who put profits before patients. That’s why biopharmaceutical companies are advocating for meaningful improvements to the program that ensure patients directly benefit from the tens of billions of dollars in discounts that manufacturers provide. Covered entities must be held accountable for how they use 340B discounts through increased government oversight and transparency requirements to make the 340B program sustainable in the long term.
It’s time to get the 340B program back on track for patients.
Nicole Longo Nicole is senior director of public affairs at PhRMA focusing on Medicare, 340B, importation and more. She previously worked for a D.C.-based public affairs firm where she assisted a wide range of clients with communications efforts on everything from trade policy to agriculture policy to health care policy. Outside the office, Nicole can be found trying new restaurants (usually Italian), taking an occasional barre class and cheering on the Cincinnati Bengals.