Editorial: Drug program helping people should go on
Prescription drugs in the United States cost too much.
If you’ve ever gone without health insurance, or been part of a “high-deductible health plan” that front-loads expenses before covering anything, you’ve likely seen the jaw-dropping prices charged for any medication that’s not generic.
Because our country, alone among its peers, has not seen the logic of a national health care system, that means expenses fall unevenly on our population. Those who are employed and make good wages are likely to have drugs covered, while those without jobs or who are struggling are forced to pay more.
Thankfully, there’s a program that can help them, according to reporting from The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl. It’s called 340B, he writes, “an initiative started in the early 1990s for federally qualified health centers to offer cut-rate drug prices to low-income patients.”
The program works in two ways. First and most obviously, it allows those who need medications to receive them more affordably. But it also allows these health centers to take the difference between the market price and that discount and use it to fund their operations. That’s important, given the crucial work of public health centers in serving those with few means.
But — wouldn’t you know it — drug companies aren’t happy with how the program has worked.
They’re pushing back against the use of contract pharmacies — outside providers that health centers work with so patients can pick up their drugs from more convenient locations. They’re protesting that their use means less money goes to the public health clinics and has expanded the program beyond its original intent.
Meanwhile, of course, patients are caught in the middle. Alongside them are public health centers, which are facing enormous pressure from the coronavirus.
It’s easy to attack drug companies, and Bahl’s story goes into more detail about their specific objections. But this kind of push and pull is almost inevitable when we have a system that rations health care based on people’s ability to pay. Doctors and pharmacies want patients to have access to important medications -- and programs that make that easier will be used. It’s only natural.
Yes, federal oversight of 340B should be examined and drug companies should continue to provide cheaper drugs for those in need. Yet that’s just a patch on a much bigger problem.
In Kansas, the Medicaid program must be expanded to cover tens of thousands more people. And nationally, Congress should take up prescription drug pricing, hopefully as part of a comprehensive insurance overhaul, to make sure that every American has access to an affordable and quality health care system.