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Health Centers Fight 'Big Pharma' Over Drug Savings Program


Tuesday, November 15, 2022   

Opening statements start today in a case pitting "Big Pharma" against Community Health Centers serving low-income and uninsured patients.

At issue is a government drug discount program known as 340B, which requires drugmakers to sell certain medications at lower prices to health centers and hospitals. Three drugmakers; AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk; are suing the federal government for the right to restrict rebates to drugs dispensed at health centers, rather than pharmacies closer to patients' homes.

Vacheria Keys, director of regulatory affairs for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said it cuts into the centers' revenue and ultimately, affects public health.

"So, as health centers have been losing money, and that translates into losing services for patients, pharmaceutical manufacturers have actually made money over the last few years," Keys pointed out. "While safety-net providers like health centers are passing out their COVID-19 vaccine to the most underserved communities."

The three drug companies did not immediately reply to requests for comment, and theirs is one of three similar lawsuits. Other manufacturers have unilaterally limited the list of drugs they will discount.

The trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has argued the 340B program provides tens of billions of dollars in drug discounts, but does not require health centers or hospitals to prove the money goes to patient care. Health centers countered sharing the financial data would allow drugmakers and health insurance companies to force them into unfavorable contracts.

Health centers report using the 340B savings to pay for services like dental care, behavioral health, transportation and housing supports, food pantries and copay assistance programs.

Dr. Nicole Thibeau, director of pharmacy services for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said for example, they used funds to deliver medications to patients during the pandemic.

"So, that allows an entity like mine to be able to provide services that patients may not have access to because they are not insured, or it's not covered by their insurance or would otherwise be cost-prohibitive," Thibeau explained.

Recently the government rejected an administrative complaint filed by Community Health Centers, so advocates for the centers are asking Congress to step in.

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