Azar says 340B changes are coming in bid to get a handle on drug prices

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The 340B Drug Pricing Program needs to be regulated to keep up with other changes to the healthcare system, said HHS Secretary Alex Azar at an event hosted by the 340B Coalition on Monday. (TaxRebate.org.uk)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar promised a hospital industry group on Monday that changes are coming to the popular drug discount program known as 340B.

"Some in the 340B community believe our delay of the penny pricing regulations is in deference to the pharmaceutical industry," Azar said a during a speech at the 340B Coalition's summer conference, referencing the administration's recent decision to delay a rule that would have set drug price ceilings for the program. "That couldn’t be further from the truth."

Drug prices have risen dramatically in recent years, and stakeholders within the pharmaceutical industry “have little financial incentive” to bring list prices down, Azar said.

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In particular, he said, further oversight is needed to improve transparency to ensure the program benefits patients, not hospitals. But Azar offered few details on what specific changes the agency is considering for the 340B program.

RELATED: HHS delays 340B drug price ceilings and penalties for the fifth time

“Change is coming to prescription drug pricing, whether it’s painful or not for pharmaceutical companies," he said.

The secretary’s remarks largely echoed the goals the administration has expressed in recent months, including in the drug blueprint released in May. These goals include increasing competition in the drug market, fostering negotiation between the government and drug companies, creating incentives for lower list prices and decreasing out-of-pocket costs for patients.

RELATED: Watchdog officials say ambiguity, lack of transparency plagues 340B program

Maureen Testoni, interim president and CEO of 340B Health, questioned the administration’s understanding of the 340B program’s value. The program allows many patients to access treatments they could not afford otherwise, and it is already closely regulated, she said.

“We’re worried that that is getting lost and we really need to make sure we get that [information] out,” Testoni said in a Q&A session with members of the press.