The rapidly rising costs of prescription drugs is causing significant financial challenges for patients and their care providers.

Many groups, including the AHA, are evaluating options for addressing this important issue. However, one recent proposal, which is seriously misguided, would reduce a program with a 25-year history of increasing access to medications and health care services for people in vulnerable communities in order to add to record profits of drug manufacturers.

An opinion piece published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine says, in part, that lawmakers could lower the price of prescription drugs by reforming the 340B Drug Pricing Program. However, the 340B program provides discounts on drugs to health care providers who serve large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients. The program constitutes less than 2 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s $374 billion in U.S. sales annually, yet, the industry continues to dispense incorrect information about the program in hopes of getting it scaled back or eliminated.  

The truth is that hospitals across the country that participate in the 340B program use the savings they receive on the discounted drugs to reinvest in programs that enhance patient services and access to care, and to provide free or reduced-priced prescription drugs to poorer residents. 

For example, a recent column authored by leaders of the MetroHealth System in Cleveland described how the 340B program helps lower the prices of drugs for patients, as well as advance its patient-centered efforts in its primary care and specialty centers.   

“We embed care coordinators and behavioral health professionals in these centers to promote integrated care for patients,” the column states. “Savings from the 340B program also help our cancer patients by allowing us to provide lifesaving chemotherapy treatments to those who otherwise couldn't afford them.”

The 340B program is more important now than ever before as the prices of prescription drugs continue to skyrocket. Instead of trying to make changes to a program with a strong track record of increasing access to care for patients in vulnerable communities, policymakers should consider other solutions, such as requiring greater transparency on drug pricing and charity policies by drug companies, increased competition in the generic drug industry or other reasonable proposals.

For more information on the 340B program, visit www.aha.org/protect340B.