A case that pits Big Pharma against Community Health Centers that serve low-income and uninsured patients advanced this week with opening arguments on Tuesday.
At issue is a government drug discount program known as 340B, which requires drug makers to sell certain medications at lower prices to health centers and hospitals. Three drugmakers – Astra Zeneca, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk – are suing the feds for the right to restrict rebates to drugs dispensed at health centers, rather than pharmacies closer to patients’ homes.
Vacheria Keys, the National Association of Community Health Centers’ director of regulatory affairs, said this 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,” she said, “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 that the 340B program provides tens of billions of dollars in drug discounts, but doesn’t require health centers or hospitals to prove the money goes to patient care. Health centers counter that sharing the financial data would allow drug makers and health-insurance companies to force them into unfavorable contracts.
Health centers have reported using the 340-B savings to pay for services such as dental care, behavioral health, transportation and housing supports, food pantries and co-pay assistance programs.
Mick Pickos, chief pharmacy officer at Central Florida Health Care, said patients are left suffering without these services.
“What several drug manufacturers have done is they’ve limited or completely blocked our ability to use 340B drug pricing at our community partner pharmacies,” he said. “What this does is makes it harder for our patients to receive meds.”
Recently the federal government rejected an administrative complaint filed by Community Health Centers, so advocates for the centers are asking Congress to step in.