WHITE: Cassidy’s HELP Act Would Close A Loophole Hospitals Are Using To Fleece The Public

Editor’s Note: A guest post by Louisiana state Sen. Bodi White (R-Central).

At a time when many Louisianans are seeing increasing drug costs at the pharmacy counter and are seeking to save more on their prescription drugs, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy has authored a critical piece of legislation to increase accountability in a federal program known as the 340B Drug Discount Program.  His reforms are designed to ensure that drug discounts designed for underserved and patients without coverage actually get to them.

As a physician and a leader in the US Senate on health care policy, US Senator Cassidy knows the importance of prescription drugs in modern medicine.  Legislation he has proposed, known as the HELP Act (Helping Ensure Low-income Patients have Access to Care and Treatment) will close loopholes in the 340B Drug Discount Program and help hold participating hospitals accountable for passing discounts they receive from drug manufacturers on to patients in need.

Currently, drug manufacturers must provide deeply discounted drugs to participating 340B hospitals and other providers that serve large numbers of low-income Americans. These discounts can cut the cost of drugs in half, on average.  Imagine how much such a discount of that size could mean to an uninsured patient.  Yet for some unexplainable reason there is no requirement in the law that the discount the hospital receives be passed along to the patient.

Because the 340B program allows hospitals to buy drugs at a steep discount, some hospitals are abusing the discount program by then reselling the discounted drugs to patients at full price and making enormous profits on drug sales in the process.  In addition to not being required to use those profits to lower drug prices to patients, hospitals are opposing any transparency to federal regulators about how they do use those profits.

Unfortunately, this loophole and lack of accountability have led eligible hospitals and clinics to distort the purpose of this well-meaning program.  They see it as a way for 340B hospitals to boost their bottom lines rather than directly help patients afford drugs.

The size of the 340B program has roughly tripled over the past decade, due in large part to hospitals seeing participation as a way to pad their bottom line.  At the same time that 340B hospitals are reaping huge benefits from the 340B program, the amount of charity care they provide to poor patients has not increased.

When asked by Senator Cassidy during a recent hearing on his proposed reforms, a spokesman for the 340B hospital industry refused to say whether they would support a change in the law that would require providers to pass on the discounted drugs, or the discount itself, to uninsured or underinsured patients.  That unwillingness to do the right thing underscores why Senator Cassidy’s legislation is so important and must be enacted.

Senator Cassidy’s HELP ACT will increase transparency and strengthen reporting requirements to prevent abuse and ensure 340B discounts are used to lower drug costs for needy patients. This legislation will go a long way in reining in abuses and improving the integrity of the discount and ensuring the longevity of the 340B drug discount program.

Thank you, Senator Cassidy, for authoring this important legislation. I hope Congress will work with you to fix the 340B drug discount program by passing the HELP ACT.

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