More of the same from Big Pharma

In Washington, when you don’t have the facts on your side, you buy better ones. Big Pharma’s latest attack on the 340B drug discount program is a case in point – and as disingenuous as ever. [Charity care program fails, 3/26/14]

Let’s be clear. The pharmaceutical industry wants to greatly undermine 340B, which requires drug companies to provide discounted medications to hospitals that serve large proportions of needy patients. The newest assault on hospitals is from a purchased “study” on charity care that suggests knocking four out of five providers out of the program.

But which ones? And in which congressional districts? The industry’s effort to create “good” and “bad” hospitals is not only unwise politics, it’s utterly manufactured. The information supporting allegations that 340B hospitals don’t supply enough charity care is based on unreliable data that even the government declined to use when considering uncompensated care levels.

Equally important, focusing on charity care alone paints an incomplete picture of a hospital’s safety-net status. Hospitals are significantly underpaid by Medicaid -- a fact completely omitted from the analysis promoted by Big Pharma’s astroturf group, the Alliance for Integrity and Reform of 340B.

In truth, the average 340B hospital provides three times more uncompensated care than providers outside the program. Put another way, 340B hospitals supply 62 percent of all the uncompensated hospital care in the country.

Congress was clear when it established 340B that eligible hospitals must serve a disproportionately high percentage of Medicaid patients, and low-income seniors or be located in remote rural areas.  Congress allows these hospitals to advance the real purpose of the program: to stretch their limited resources so that they can provide better services to their patients and communities.

The 340B program has lived up to congressional expectations, which is why Congress chose to add several new categories of hospitals to its ranks under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The program also saves taxpayer dollars by keeping outpatients healthier and out of the emergency room.

For some perspective, the 340B program represents only 2 percent of the $325 billion annual U.S. pharmaceutical market. By contrast, pharmaceutical companies spend 8 percent (more than $27 billion) on direct marketing and advertising.

If the drug industry can afford to bombard us with TV ads for Viagra and visit every doctor’s office, surely it can pitch in to help us effectively treat our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

Slafsky is president and chief executive officer of Safety Net Hospitals for Pharmaceutical Access, an association of more than 1,000 hospitals that participate in the 340B program