Healthcare Network is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides comprehensive primary health services to men, women, and children of all ages in practices throughout Collier County. Many of our patients are uninsured or underinsured and come to us because they cannot afford primary care services and/or their medications elsewhere.
Medications are made available to these vulnerable people through savings generated by the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program. The 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide discounted pricing to FQHCs like Healthcare Network and other 340B covered entities.
The program allows us to buy medications at a discount of 25 to 50 percent and then reinvest those savings into patient care through affordable medications and comprehensive health services like medical and dental care, behavioral health and wraparound services.
Currently, Healthcare Network provides approximately $13 million in uncompensated care annually. Without the 340B drug discount program, we will have tough choices to make like reducing hours of operations, closing centers, discontinuing programs and service, and reducing staff size.
Unfortunately, this critical program is under attack by drug companies threatening to undermine the nation’s public health safety net.
The Health Resources and Services Administration said in 2022 that discounted purchases under the program reached $44 billion in 2021, about 16 percent more than in 2020. Drug manufacturers say they are concerned about this growth impacting their ability to do business.
However, in 2020, it was estimated that the discounted drug purchases through the program amounted to only about 7% of the total U.S. drug market.
In January, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled legislation to increase Big Pharma Transparency and Accountability to lower prescription drug prices. We appreciate that Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing legislation to protect consumers and drive transparency among prescription drug prices influenced by Big Pharma.
Similarly, without swift and meaningful action by federal authorities to protect 340B, manufacturers will continue to decrease prescription affordability and access to the most vulnerable patients at Healthcare Network and across the country. Unfortunately, pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) and insurers have found ways to take 340B savings away, redirecting savings away from safety-net providers like Healthcare Network and towards their own bottom lines.
The House sponsored the Preserving Rules Order for the Covered Entities Through 340B or PROTECT 340B Act in July 2021. This bill would protect FQHCs like Healthcare Network who rely on the savings provided by the 340B program to care for patients who desperately need it.
This bipartisan bill would prohibit commercial insurers and PBMs from targeting health centers that participate in the 340B program with discriminatory reimbursement terms and conditions. The legislation would authorize civil monetary penalties on insurers and PBMs that violate these protections.
To continue to be able to provide discounted medications to our most vulnerable patients, we ask that members of Congress move to protect 340B by creating a national standard (rather than a patchwork of individual state laws). Consumers can also advocate for the health and wellness of our community by urging their congresspeople to support the bill and protect access to vital medications for the uninsured and underinsured.
Join us to defend the 340B Pharmacy Program and take action here.
About the Author
Jamie Ulmer is President and CEO of Healthcare Network. He serves on the executive and chair committees for the Florida Association of Community Health Centers and is a member of multiple committees for the National Association of Community Health Centers. For information, visit healthcareswfl.org.