Hospital drug discount backers organize

Defenders of the federal 340B drug program, which allows non-profit and public hospitals to purchase pharmaceuticals at a steep discount, argued earlier this week that it made no sense to restrict access only to low-income or uninsured patients.

"If this program was changed and limited to uninsured would make it a (logistical) nightmare," said Ted Slafsky, chief executive officer of Safety Net Hospitals for Pharmaceutical Access during a webinar Tuesday held by its backers to clarify the issue. Other participants included America's Essential Hospitals (formerly the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems) and the National Rural Health Association.

Safety Net Hospitals also launched a website,, and released a white paper, "Setting the Facts Straight on 340B," with the intent of marshalling support for the program, which was introduced in 1992.

The 340B program came under fire earlier this year when it was reported that Duke University Medical Center and other institutions in North Carolina were reselling its allotment of discounted drugs at a steep markup to insured patients. Duke pocketed a profit of nearly $70 million in 2012, while only about 5 percent of uninsured patients received drugs. Sources have suggested reselling drugs to insured patients is fairly commonplace among the hospitals that participate in the program--roughly a third of acute care facilities nationwide.

Bruce Siegel, M.D., CEO of America's Essential Hospitals, said his organization was pledged to greater transparency in the 340B program, although he did not provide specifics. He noted though that any benefits being reaped from the program--whether through reselling or not--was going to the infrastructure of hospitals and their community health programs, rather than shareholders.

To learn more:
- read the 340B white paper (.pdf)
- check out the 340B website