Another recent study, this one by independent public health care research firm IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, looked at the same trend; economists found that the macro-effect of hospital acquisitions of community cancer facilities is a significant side-effect of hospitals’ desire to capture more 340B revenues, and that ultimately this phenomenon increases the cost of cancer care for patients.
Taken together with recent news stories of soaring profits at safety-net hospitals, which are at the same time reducing the charity care provided to patients, these studies call into question whether the 340B program is really meeting the goals Congress set when creating the program.
The 340B program was designed as a vital tool for safety-net providers to enable them to serve needy patients. Some hospitals are doing what Congress intended, and providing significant levels of charity care in their communities. But there are still many other hospitals – as the new data tell us – using the program as a financial planning tool, raising the cost of care for some of the most vulnerable patients, and for the healthcare system overall.
The 340B program has great merit, but has fallen off the rails. It is time for a wholesale reevaluation of 340B – for Congress to carefully reexamine eligibility criteria and for federal policymakers generally to hold hospitals accountable for adhering to the program’s original goals. Policymakers and stakeholders alike, including hospitals that remain fully committed to the initial aims of 340B, must responsibly reform the program so that it remains viable to serve the patients who most need it.