Washington, DC, Jan. 17, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Community Oncology Alliance (COA) applauds Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on his leadership to improve transparency and accountability in the 340B Drug Discount Program with the introduction of the Helping Ensure Low-income Patients have Access to Care and Treatment (HELP ACT).

As a physician, Dr. Cassidy understands that the 340B program is critically important to the health care that uninsured and underserved patient populations across the country receive. That is why it is imperative that hospitals shine the light of transparency on their 340B programs to ensure that the program is helping patients in need, not feeding hospital profits.

“340B is an invaluable program for patients in need at community and safety-net providers, including rural hospitals. However, after 25 years, it has gone horribly wrong. I regularly hear about how the patients that 340B is intended to help are often actually being harmed by the program, cut off from timely and high-quality care by hospitals seeking to make profits from it. This is outrageous and must be stopped,” said Jeff Vacirca, MD, FACP, oncologist, CEO of NY Cancer Specialists in Long Island, NY, and president of COA. “Policymakers in DC need to act to ensure that we have a clear understanding of the scale of the 340B program, where funds are going, and accountability so that patients are directly benefiting.”

Since its inception, the 340B program has been the subject of countless research studies, white papers, and analyses looking at its substantial growth and role in the U.S. health care system. Last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the results of an exhaustive, two-year-long investigation into the 340B program. It details problems with program oversight, reporting requirements, and data, and recommends Congress make significant changes to improve it.

COA is a non-profit organization controlled by community oncologists dedicated to advocating for community oncology practices and, most importantly, the patients they serve. The opportunity for hospitals to make substantial profits from cancer drugs purchased through the 340B program has created substantial financial incentives for hospitals to expand oncology services, either through internal expansion or acquisition of independent, community oncology practices. The resulting shift of cancer care to the much more expensive hospital setting is costing cancer patients, Medicare, and all taxpayers more. At the same time, there is mounting evidence that the exploding volume of 340B discounts is putting upward pressure on drug prices for all Americans. In December 2017, COA released a study by the Berkeley Research Group (BRG) that found the average profit margin on oncology drugs purchased by hospitals through the 340B program have grown to 49 percent in 2015. At the same time, 340B discounts provided by manufacturers have exploded, leading to pricing pressure on cancer drugs.

“After more than 25 years in operation, the 340B program has grown so large and unwieldy in the shadows of Washington that policymakers have no idea how big it is, where the savings go, or who is really benefitting,” said Ted Okon, executive director of COA. “The 340B HELP ACT, other legislation, and administrative actions are finally shining a light on the 340B black hole in hospitals so that there is finally some transparency and accountability. It is critical that Congress push through the misinformation and rhetoric and get a true understanding of how this critically important program is truly operating.”

The 340B HELP ACT is one of many recent efforts in Washington to improve 340B program operations, introduce transparency, and reign in program abuses. In late December, Representatives Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced H.R. 4710, the “340B Protecting Access for the Underserved and Safety-Net Entities Act,” also known as the 340B PAUSE Act. COA also strongly supports H.R. 4710 which would also temporarily pause enrollment of hospitals in the 340B program so that Congress can examine the growth of this critically important, but runaway, program. Similar to the 340B HELP ACT, it would also require 340B hospitals to submit to the same, basic reporting and transparency requirements of other program grantees.

COA stands ready to help Senator Cassidy advance this important legislation, as well as provide continued insight into the impact of the program on cancer patients, providers, and the overall health care system.

Attachments:

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/fe6a8dbf-e04c-4203-ac01-2005cd5328b9

Community Oncology Alliance
202-729-8147