CLEVELAND — I met Hope (not her real name) at the MetroHealth Cancer Center a year and a half ago – a happily married young woman who had a great job and was eagerly awaiting to be a firsttime mom. She came to me because there was a black spot on her skin, and it was bleeding every now and then. It was melanoma.
And like that, her life changed in the blink of an eye.
I removed the melanoma, but she could not undergo additional therapy due to her pregnancy. And then we discovered that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. We delivered the baby early and removed all the lymph nodes on that side. Not long after, lymph nodes on the other side had to be surgically removed as well. During her three surgeries and delivery, she lost her job and separated from her husband. Her finances were depleted.
Today, she is well, in remission, and caring for her healthy baby. Her recovery and continued remission are due to the medications MetroHealth provided. These lifesaving drugs can cost upwards of $100,000 per year. But MetroHealth can buy them at a discount, thanks to our participation in a little-known but vital federal initiative called the 340B drug discount program.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers voluntarily enter the 340B program and provide discounted outpatient drugs for safety-net hospitals. The discounts come directly from pharmaceutical manufacturers, not taxpayers.
In turn, these drugs are then provided for free or at a reduced cost to low-income and vulnerable patients. And when an insured patient receives one of these discounted drugs, the institution may use the proceeds to offer clinical care to others less fortunate. In addition, the savings can also be used to support other programs: transportation; support care; or in some safety-net hospitals, simply to keep the lights on.
Unfortunately, the 340B program is under attack today in Washington. Some assert that cutting the number of hospitals enrolled in 340B and slashing what Medicare pays them will somehow bring drug prices down.
A recent report, funded by 340B Health, the association of hospitals that benefit from the 340B program, disproves this idea. Drug companies provide $6.1 billion per year in discounts under 340B. That’s only about 1.3 percent of the $457 billion U.S. drug market.
To qualify for 340B drug discounts, hospitals must show they care for disproportionately high volumes of poor and/or disabled patients. At MetroHealth, our mission is to provide care for anyone in Cuyahoga County who may need care, regardless of insurance status and ability to pay.
In 2015, MetroHealth provided more than $50 million in uncompensated care.
Current proposed rules that would reduce 340B reimbursement will disproportionately hurt providers like MetroHealth and the patients who are most vulnerable.
The money we save on prescription drugs through the 340B program lets us serve our community, especially the disadvantaged, in ways we otherwise couldn’t afford. Some of these programs and initiatives include patient transportation to our cancer center, partnering with other organizations for survivorship care, and providing patients with psychosocial support, among many other things. Our patient Hope, and many other cancer patients, benefit from these programs.
The 340B program helps shield MetroHealth’s patients from the high cost of care, especially soaring drug prices.
Like Hope, all of us are potentially one diagnosis away from a catastrophic illness that can dramatically change our lives and our financial well-being. For Hope and others like her, it is essential that we continue to provide the cancer treatments and robust services that are needed, through savings from discounts coming directly from pharmaceutical manufacturers, not taxpayers. This is why 340B is such an important program.
Sadly, the 340B program is in jeopardy. Access to vital care for our patients is being threatened. We need our policymakers to take a stand and protect this crucial program, as many lives truly depend on it.
Read the full Cleveland.com article here.