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Leaders address prescription drug access

DISCUSSING THE ISSUES — U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., was in Weirton on Friday to talk with Judy Raveaux, CEO of CHANGE, Inc., about the importance of the 340B drug discount program. (Photo by Michael D. McElwain)

WEIRTON — An effort is under way designed to help protect rural health patients, hospitals and clinics, according to some local leaders.

U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., led a group of 243 U.S. Congressmen in sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday, requesting an immediate response to several concerns.

“Protecting access to prescription drugs for underserved communities should be a top priority. Unfortunately, the big pharmaceutical companies’ recent actions to restrict 340B drug discounts could jeopardize the ability of hospitals to provide vital services to vulnerable populations,” McKinley said.

“Our letter shows strong bipartisan opposition to this action, and hopefully will convince HHS to intervene.”

Recently, several major drug manufacturers announced that they will limit or restrict federally required 340B drug discounts for eligible health care organizations. These providers rely on 340B savings to ensure access to care for low-income and rural patients.

McKinley was at CHANGE, Inc. offices in Weirton on Friday to discuss the issue with Judy Raveaux, CHANGE’s CEO, and other health center officials. The group held a teleconference to discuss their strategy.

Court decisions regarding the program and the pharmaceutical companies have gone back and forth, but a recent action has the pharmaceutical companies asking for certain information that Raveaux is refusing to turn over by the October deadline.

“That data is your personal data,” Raveaux said. “That’s your script (prescription), who you are, what your diagnosis was, why you’re using it. What do they need that for? They don’t need it.”

While the database is an issue, it’s the survival of the 340B drug discount program that is taking center stage. The effort to safeguard the program would also safeguard the operation of CHANGE and other agencies throughout the country. CHANGE has a federally qualified community health center known as Family Medical Care which provides access to the 340B discount drug program and contracts with 23 pharmacies throughout the Ohio Valley to provide “considerable savings on medication to our patients,” Raveaux noted.

Any changes to the program could impact the 70,000 constituents in McKinley’s district alone that have taken advantage of the offering.

The letter is an attempt to alert legislators, the current administration and the nation, McKinley said.

“Big pharma has been going to Azar and said, ‘We want to make this change,’ and we’re saying don’t listen to them, and 200 members of Congress agreed with us,” McKinley said.

As an example, Raveaux said a patient who’s under the 200 percent poverty level and on diabetes would have to go to a typical pharmacy in their neighborhood and spend close to $390 for their medication, compared to what they would have spent — $10.

If the program was not in place, CHANGE would have lost about $1.3 million last year, Raveaux noted.

“There is absolutely no explanation for these actions other than increasing the bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies,” Raveaux said.

The alternative would be for the 340B entities to pay full price for all medications and then for the pharmaceutical companies to decide if any rebate applied.

McKinley said some sort of injunction or stay in the court decision may be needed.

“One of the things we’ve been pushing in Washington is how do we get prescription drug prices down,” McKinley said. “You got people coming here (to CHANGE and other agencies) because of their needs, who don’t pay anything. This program is to help out in that circumstance.”

(McElwain can be contacted at mmcelwain@heraldstaronline.com)

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