Opinion Columns & Blogs

Congress should not cut drug program

Via Christi and Ascension are embracing the transformation to new models of care designed to improve health outcomes at a lower cost. But a major obstacle to achieving this transformation is the astronomical price increases of prescription drugs.

Last year, according to the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about $457 billion was spent on prescription drugs, accounting for 16.7 percent of overall personal health care services. Prescription medication prices are increasing far faster than any other aspect of health care. At Via Christi, we experienced a 3.7 percent increase in our drug spending last year. That means $750,000 less that we can invest in patient and community care.

While this negative trend continues, a bipartisan program Congress created in the early 1990s is now at risk. The 340B Drug Pricing Program helps hospitals that provide a disproportionate share of care to uninsured or Medicaid-eligible individuals by requiring drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs at significantly reduced prices. Though 340B drugs now amount to only 2 percent of all medicines purchased in the United States, this program makes an enormous impact on our ability to provide the best possible care to our patients.

Savings from the 340B program fund a variety of services at Via Christi that help patients recover from hospital stays and remain in their homes, as well as provide qualified patients access to free prescription medications.

One example is an uninsured woman from a rural community diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the 340B program, Via Christi was able to provide chemotherapy at no cost to her. She is now disease-free with an estimated survival rate of 90 percent.

Unfortunately, some in Congress are considering scaling back the program. That would leave our most vulnerable citizens with less access to the medication and quality health care they need.

Reducing the benefits of the program would compromise our ability to provide low-cost or no-cost medications to our patients who need them most. By paying less for high-priced prescription drugs, we have more resources to reinvest in programs for our patients.

Via Christi urges our Kansas congressional delegation to preserve the integrity of the 340B program so our patients continue to have access to lifesaving affordable medications.

Michael L. Mullins is CEO of Via Christi Health and Kansas Ministry Market leader for Ascension.