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Thomas E. Blonski: Vulnerable patients need Maggie Hassan's HELP

April 26. 2018 6:00PM

THE FEDERAL 340B Drug Discount Program was signed into law in 1992, and like most government programs, it started with great intentions. By design, the 340B program was meant to serve low-income Americans by providing greater access to prescription medications at a steep discount.

The program requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide discounted drugs to participating hospitals and other providers that serve uninsured or vulnerable patients. Unfortunately, these discounts are not being passed along to the patients — rather they are being retained by hospitals and clinics for their bottom line. New Hampshire’s needy patients, plus those served by the program in rural communities, demand that the 340B program operates as originally intended.

So, what’s the problem?

Bad actors, mainly large hospitals, enrolled in the 340B program are absorbing these savings, keeping the profits for themselves instead of passing them along to the patients. Studies show many of these hospitals charge low-income patients full price, even though the hospital is getting the 340B discount.

According to a House Energy and Commerce report on 340B, in 2005, the program had more than 500 enrolled hospitals receiving the discount to serve needy patients with affordable medications. That number has jumped to almost 2,500 as of October 2017. At the same time, and with a similar trend, the number of 340B contract pharmacies increased exponentially. The program is now being used and in many cases, abused, by the very hospitals and clinics that were meant to serve these vulnerable or uninsured populations.

Similar to the intentions and principles that led to the 340B program’s creation, Catholic Charities New Hampshire strives “to provide person-centered services to strengthen New Hampshire families and build independence.” One of our main missions in New Hampshire is to help make sure “vulnerable people are protected,” which is why I am asking Sen. Maggie Hassan to cosponsor the HELP ACT with Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-La. The 340B program must get back to the place where it started, helping those that are underserved, underinsured or those who have no health insurance at all.

Sen. Cassidy’s HELP Act is focused on revitalizing the program and ensuring the program is implemented within its original intent. It will enhance accountability by strengthening reporting requirements and stop the growth of 340B entities enrolled until reforms that put the program back on track are in place. Cassidy’s HELP Act will ensure 340B enrolled hospitals and clinics are held accountable to pass the drug discounts along to the patients. I believe most health care providers would be in favor of this legislation. Who doesn’t want to make sure the neediest among us are receiving the care they need?

It is time for New Hampshire to demand greater accountability for the 340B program. Hassan has been an advocate and a leader for New Hampshire’s most vulnerable patients. Catholic Charities New Hampshire encourages Sen. Hassan to continue in this mission by cosponsoring the HELP Act with Sen. Cassidy.

Thomas E. Blonski is president and CEO of Catholic Charities New Hampshire.

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