By Albert Fulcher
TV ads and protesters give false claims on ending low drug pricing program
There is a claim that Scott Peters (D-52) is out to end the 340B program, a drug pricing program intended to provide qualified hospitals access to discounted pharmaceuticals for low-income communities. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) recently claimed so in a TV ad that aired in the San Diego region.
As a result, more than 200 protestors from an organization calling themselves “Let 340B” gathered at the congress member’s San Diego office on Feb. 22, asking him to withdraw his support of H. R. 4710, a federal legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on adding new hospitals, clinics and their subsidiaries in joining the 340B drug pricing program.
It’s important to note that Let340b.org is financed by AHF, which should raise some eyebrows across the community.
Although news of the moratorium is true, the TV ad does not explain the details of why Peters is co-sponsoring this bipartisan legislation.
Last year, the Trump administration announced that it was cutting $1.6 billion from the 340B program, which has damaging consequences to the program and the low-income people and families that it serves.
While involved hospitals and clinics get a 20-50 percent discount from pharmaceutical companies, which should support expanding access to medical care, there are currently no regulations in place to ensure that these providers are using the program as it was intended.
There are numerous calls out there to end the 340B program completely, due to claims that many hospitals are exploiting 340B. Some hospitals are padding their own profit margins by using the discounted priced drugs for patients and charging the insurance reimbursement in full, non-discounted prices.
This is nothing short of fraud.
“The 340B program is critical to provide low-income patients with access to the life-saving treatments they need,” Peters said in a press release disputing the ad’s claims. “The cuts made by the Trump administration to the 340B program need to be reversed. Going forward, we also must find ways to make sure the program is viable long-term; part of that is ensuring that hospitals who participate in the program are getting these critical, discounted drugs to the people for whom they are intended.”
H. R. 4710 (short-titled the “340B Pause Act”) does not affect any hospitals or clinics already involved with 340B, but it does allow time for Congress to place further safeguards in place to ensure that hospitals are not profiteering from accessibility to lower priced pharmaceuticals, and that those who need the discounted pricing are the people that need it the most. This would also help taxpayers who more often than not take the brunt of misguided regulations.
“Congress needs to ensure the funds are properly allocated, that there is no abuse and the program is being used as intended,” Peters added. “A temporary pause on 340B will not affect hospitals already in the program and will allow for greater data transparency, appropriate oversight and better care for patients.”
This conflicts with what AHF claims in the TV ad, and what the Let 340B protesters are claiming.
In reading one of our network contributor’s monthly column, “Congressional Watch,” author Andy Cohen had the following points to say on this subject.
In short, the bill co-sponsored by Peters does not end the 340B program. Rather, it seeks to ensure the program’s funds are being used to provide medications to low-income patients instead of padding hospital profit margins, contrary to the AHF’s assertions.
It turns out that AHF — and its founder, Michael Weinstein — derives most of its funding from clinics and pharmacies it operates that depend largely on Medicare and Medicaid insurance payments. These are the types of providers that participate in 340B.
When hospitals manipulate the program in this manner, it means there are fewer funds available for rural or underprivileged patients who could truly benefit from the program.
The point of the moratorium is to a) preserve the program as is for those already in it; and b) to give legislators time to refine the program and ensure the funds are going to those who need it most, not to bolster profits.
Opposing a member of Congress is one thing. But lying about that member’s stated positions in an effort to undermine their standing is quite another and is something we should never tolerate.
This is pomposity at its grandest level. Having a moratorium for two years may not only stop the profiteering, but in the long run it will safeguard this program for the future; especially if we face more cuts.
Every penny needs to be accounted for and every underserved person in the community deserves proper care and the medications that they need at a price they can afford. If nothing is done about the problem, it will only go away if 340B is completely dismantled. That would be an atrocity, but in the current state of this administration, not out of possibility.
— Albert Fulcher is the incoming editor of Gay San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.