Bipartisan group of Senate, House lawmakers press HHS to quash drug companies' 340B moves

Congress can’t seem to agree on much, but large bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate did agree to slam drug companies for restricting access to 340B drugs sold via contract pharmacies.

A group of 243 House lawmakers and 28 senators sent letters last week to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over a series of moves drug companies have made on the 340B drug discount program. The lawmakers urge swift action from Azar to restrict the moves, which they say are hurting providers.

“To ensure pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to comply with the 340B statute and provide accounts to safety-net providers, we call on [Health Resources and Services Administration] to take appropriate, prompt enforcement action to address violations of the Public Health Service Act,” the letter said.

HRSA said that it is looking into whether the moves by drug companies violate federal law, but experts say that the agency may lack the authority to clamp down on the practices.

RELATED: AHA analysis touts community benefits made by 340B hospitals as spat with drugmakers continues

The letters are the latest salvo in an escalating feud between providers and drug companies.

Major drug companies Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca have announced they will no longer provide discounted 340B drugs to contract pharmacies, which are third-party entities that dispense the products for hospitals.

Several other drug companies such as Merck and Sanofi have called for claims data from contract pharmacies to prevent duplicative discounts offered to both 340B drugs and Medicaid drugs.

But hospital groups charge that the moves are end run around the program, which requires drug companies to give discounts to safety-net hospitals in exchange for participating in Medicaid.

The advocacy group 340B Health, which represents more than 1,400 hospitals, lauded the letters.

“The healthcare community and Congress are united in the opposition to drug manufacturers that are ignoring the 340B statute and harming patients who rely on the care made possible through program discounts,” said Maureen Testoni, 340B Health’s president and CEO.

AstraZeneca previously told Fierce Healthcare that its moves fully comply with “all operative requirements.”

Drug companies have criticized the 340B program for years, saying that the program has grown too large and that savings from the discounts aren’t being passed down to patients.

But hospital groups charge that drug companies have raised prices dramatically and safety-net hospitals need the discounts as they operate at such low margins.