Americans in every state face health care challenges every day, but those challenges are particularly acute in rural areas.
In fact, access to doctors and medical treatment is one of the most critical issues facing rural and agricultural communities today, where residents deal with numerous complications that their more urban counterparts do not.
This is why the 340B Drug Pricing Program was so beneficial for these communities. For 25 years the 340B program enabled vulnerable patients to get the outpatient medicines and medical care they needed. The program was very simple: Pharmaceutical manufacturers discounted drugs for hospitals that treated a disproportionate share of low-income patients, in return for a guaranteed market (and hefty profits) in the Medicaid system.
The savings from the 340B program allowed hospitals to not only supply eligible patients with the outpatient drugs they needed, but also enabled hospitals to use those monies for local health priorities, from diabetes clinics to cancer outreach to mental health assistance.
Given the challenging financial situations of many hospitals — the percentage of rural hospitals operating at negative margins increased to 44 percent this year — the savings from the 340B drug discounts allowed many to keep their doors open.
This is incredibly important, considering that 122 rural hospitals have closed since 2005.
However, the 340B program has come under attack in the last several months, and this will mean significant changes for the patients who rely on it, like the elderly, low-income families and children.
In November 2017, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a ruling that cut the program’s drug reimbursement rates by nearly a third. This was bad news, as it would practically zero-out any savings for many hospitals, meaning they would be forced to decrease or completely discontinue local care initiatives.
But worse was to come, in the form of legislation introduced in December by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.). H.R. 4710 the 340B Protecting Access for the Underserved and Safety-net Entities Act, specifies three further changes to the 340B program Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH), Cancer and Children’s hospitals.
These changes include a moratorium on allowing any new entities to participate in the program; increased and onerous data reporting; and required reports by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) on charity care provided by existing 340B institutions.
The 340B PAUSE Act would endanger vulnerable patients and decrease health care availability across America.
Hospitals already combat wire-thin operating budgets, and the new reporting requirements will be a costly burden — one which some hospitals might not be able to afford. And the moratorium on admitting new 340B entities prohibits healthcare expansion into the vulnerable communities that need it most.
The 340B Drug Pricing Program provides accessible and affordable healthcare for millions of Americans. we should not add further restrictions to this important and worthy program.
Chris Skorupa is the vice president of RACA, and is the president of Beartooth Fertilizer Company in Fox, Mont. Skorupa provides fertilizer, custom application, seeding, soil testing, and crop consulting for farmers and ranchers in southern Montana. He has experience serving on the RACA Farm Bill Committee and also maintains membership in the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.
To read the full article on The Hill, click here.