Jeff Korsmo: Don’t roll back drug program

08/18/2014 7:02 PM

08/19/2014 12:02 AM

Every day many Americans have to weigh how they spend each dollar – food or rent, electric bill or health care.

For those who are uninsured or underinsured, medication often is sacrificed to cover the basic costs of day-to-day living, leading to more emergency room visits, declining health and a poorer quality of life.

Via Christi’s mission, rooted in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, is to serve the poorest and most vulnerable among our fellow Kansans. As the largest health provider in Kansas and a Catholic organization, Via Christi has the responsibility to ensure that those we serve have access to the medications they need.

Last year, Via Christi and our fellow Ascension Health ministries provided $1.5 billion in charity care for those living in poverty.

A program called 340B is vital to helping many vulnerable people afford medications to keep them healthy and out of hospitals, where care is very costly. This is especially important for patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

The 340B Drug Pricing Program was enacted by Congress in 1992 to help safety-net providers that serve the poor afford the rising cost of outpatient drugs – a problem that has not diminished.

The 340B law is simple and effective. By allowing us to pay less for high-priced outpatient prescription drugs, as a safety-net provider, we have resources to help the growing number of uninsured and underinsured among us. Consider these two examples of how the program has helped our patients:

A young rural Kansas waitress was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she was uninsured and could not afford the chemotherapy she needed. Thanks to the 340B program, she was provided the needed drugs for free through Via Christi. She completed her chemotherapy and is doing well.

An Oklahoma woman was diagnosed with a rare, typically fatal neuromuscular disease that affects only 1 in 40,000 people. The only medication available to treat her disease was investigational and costs about $400,000 per year. With 340B, the drug’s price was reduced by one-third and Via Christi covered the remaining cost.

The 340B program has come under scrutiny in Congress, with some questioning whether the program has been abused and whether the nation can afford it. At Via Christi and Ascension Health, we support the prudent use of taxpayer dollars and are using the 340B funds for their intended purpose.

Careless program rollbacks would hurt those who truly need this support, and actually increase the nation’s health care costs. By helping uninsured patients afford their medication, we are able to treat them effectively without costly hospital stays.

Jeff Korsmo is president and CEO of Via Christi Health.

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