Safety-net hospital leaders this week were successful in their efforts to keep the 340B drug program intact.
Hospital executives were concerned that Congress may attempt to alter the program's funding or operations through revisions to the 21st Century Cures drug bill, which is aimed at streamlining the drug approval process in the U.S.
Lawmakers have been divided on how to fund the Cures bill, with some suggesting it be balanced out by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs, including 340B. But on Thursday the House Energy & Commerce Committee unanimously passed the bill without adding language to it related to the 340B drug discounts. The bill will now advance to a full House vote.
The vote comes as a relief to the CEOs of 523 hospitals that participate in the 340B program and who sent a letter to Congressional leaders earlier this week urging them to leave the program alone. The letter declared that the program, which provides drugs to safety-net providers at a steep discount "enables our hospitals to expand healthcare services to the community, increase the number of patients we serve and offset losses from uncompensated care. In some instances, the program allows us to keep our emergency rooms and hospital doors open."
At a press conference held earlier this week by 340B Health, a lobby for hospitals that participate in the program, hospital leaders extolled the virtues of the program. David Ramsey, chief executive officer of the Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia, said the program helps offset the $136 million in uncompensated care costs it must defray every year.
Donna Bourdon, senior vice president of ambulatory services for Erlanger Health Systems in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said 340B cuts costs at the organization by $15 million a year.
However, the 340B program has come under fire from some members of Congress, particularly after reports surfaced that some hospitals were reselling their 340B drugs to commercially insured patients at a huge markup. For example, Duke University Hospital reaped nearly $70 million in profits by reselling drugs purchased through the 340B program. And hospitals participating in 340B have also come under fire for relatively low levels of charity care spending.