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Another View -- Steve Ahnen: Hospitals use drug program to improve care

May 08. 2018 9:31PM

The recent Union Leader column by Thomas E. Blonski titled “Vulnerable patients need Maggie Hassan’s HELP” calls into question the integrity of the 340B Prescription Drug Savings program, as well as the commitment of New Hampshire hospitals who serve our state’s most vulnerable and underserved citizens. Blonski clearly misses the mark in understanding how hospitals use the 340B program to serve patients.

While Blonski suggests that hospitals who participate in the 340B program do not pass along the savings they receive from the program to their patients, the 340B program does in fact generate valuable savings for eligible hospitals to provide free or reduced priced prescription medications to vulnerable patient populations. In addition, it allows hospitals to reinvest in health care programs that enhance patient services, offer free vaccines, and provide services such as those within mental health clinics, medication management programs and community health programs. Currently, 14 New Hampshire hospitals qualify and participate in the 340B program.

Section 340B of the Public Health Service Act requires pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in Medicaid to sell outpatient drugs at discounted prices to health care organizations that care for many uninsured and low-income patients. Participating hospitals can achieve savings of 25 to 50 percent on pharmaceutical purchases. To qualify for the 340B program, hospitals must serve a disproportionate share of low-income and uninsured people, or be critical access hospitals providing essential services to their rural communities. These hospitals must also provide services to low-income populations that do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. And let us not forget that the 340B program involves no federal spending.

Blonski incorrectly asserts that the 340B program isn’t being carried out the way it was originally intended. The 340B program is still operating in the manner Congress intended when it established the program in 1992. As passed by Congress, this program was designed to play an important role in helping hospitals stretch already scarce resources to expand access to care, enhance community outreach programs, and offer unique health services like free vaccines, clinical pharmacy benefits, and smoking cessation classes. This includes, but is not limited to, improved access to outpatient prescribed prescription medications. Given the increasingly high cost of prescription medications, the program is just as relevant now as it was when Congress established it 26 years ago.

New Hampshire hospitals participating in the 340B prescription drug program do so because it allows them to provide low-cost or free prescriptions, expand services, and improve access to care for New Hampshire’s uninsured and low-income populations, just the way it was meant to do so.

Steve Ahnen is president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

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