340B Program is Critical Lifeline for Texas Rural Hospitals and Clinics

The following op-ed was written by Teresa Burnett, President of the Monahans Chamber of Commerce

Rural communities represent a lot of Texas values.  Whether we are working the land or serving the community in other ways, our neighbors in other parts of the state always look to us for the compass when it comes to what makes Texas great.

However, the challenges for over 3 million rural Texans, and for rural America for that matter, are daunting.  We have to confront many ills that are present in our communities, from a lack of convenient, affordable healthcare access to addressing addiction afflicting so many of our neighbors.  We can’t possibly take this on all by ourselves, and that’s why we need to embrace government programs that work to bridge our community to services and platforms that relate access and appropriate care for our neighbors.

One example of a crucial program you have probably heard little about is the 340B program.  The 340B program is a critical lifeline for rural healthcare providers, such as community clinics and rural hospitals like Ward Memorial Hospital and the 400 plus other rural hospitals of which 82 hospitals are identified as Critical Access Hospitals in Texas.

This innovative program invites prescription drug makers to participate by discounting significantly the prices of drugs to purchasers like hospitals.  This cost savings affords our local medical centers the ability to stay in business serve the large numbers of Medicaid beneficiaries and uninsured individuals as well.  In return, the drug companies gain access to millions of these beneficiaries that otherwise wouldn’t have access to life-saving medicines.

In many ways, this program is a key factor for our communities, delivering reliable access to drugs we need.  But, now there’s an effort in Congress to reform this program, and it is being led by the very same drug companies.

Despite the 340B program accounting for less than 1% of total U.S. drug spending in this country, the drug makers think they are getting a raw deal.  Not content to play a constructive role in assisting rural communities with access while still making millions through this program, they are pointing fingers at our local hospitals and care clinics, resulting in a continued game of musical chairs to purposely muddy the waters on the confusing and complicated topic of high drug prices.

Here’s what I know – the 340B program results in significant savings here in Texas.  Those savings enable our already few rural providers to stay in business and remain in our communities, affording access that we cannot possibly live without right now as we confront multiple healthcare challenges amongst our vulnerable, uninsured, and veterans populations.  And again, the drug companies still make money selling drugs to these providers, even at the discounted rates.

My message to the drug companies?  Stick with us, please.  Now is not the time to gut punch rural America.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together to broadly expand programs like 340B that put critical access to life-saving medical care within reach, not out of reach.

I urge our Members of Congress in Washington like Rep. Will Hurd and Senators Cornyn and Cruz, as well as the Trump administration, to defend and support the 340B program, and hold the drug makers accountable on this program so rural citizens can continue to rely on government programs that have been proven to work and help our neighbors remain healthy.

 

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