The panel that advises the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on hospital outpatient payments sent a clear signal to the agency this week: Don’t shortchange patients’ access to vital pharmaceuticals by cutting the 340B Drug Pricing Program. CMS’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment responded to concerns raised by the AHA and hospital witnesses by calling on the agency to shelve a proposal that would drastically reduce funding for the 340B program in 2018.

Created by Congress more than 25 years ago, the 340B program provides discounts on drugs to some health care providers who serve large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients. The program, which enjoys broad, bipartisan support, gives patients better access to drugs they need and helps hospitals enhance their care capabilities by stretching scarce federal resources.

Testifying on behalf of the AHA at this week’s hearing, Peegan Townsend, Columbia, Md.-based MedStar Health’s vice president of government affairs, and Kathy Talbot, MedStar’s vice president for rates and reimbursement, drove home what the proposed cuts would mean for hospitals serving vulnerable patients. They described how MedStar Health, like other 340B hospitals across the country, uses the savings they receive on discounted drugs to invest in programs that enhance patient services and access to care, as well as provide free or reduced priced prescription drugs to those most in need.

They and others offered compelling reasons why CMS should follow its advisory panel’s recommendation to rescind a drug payment proposal that is simply the wrong prescription for advancing the health of underserved communities. CMS should heed the concerns of its own advisory agency and providers on the front lines of care, and protect the safety net upon which our most vulnerable patients rely.