Other Voices

Drug discount pricing program that’s crucial to JPS is at risk

Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital
Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital STAR-TELEGRAM

JPS Health Network is Tarrant County’s safety-net healthcare provider.

That means we treat all sick people regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

A little-known federal statute called the 340B drug discount pricing program helps us care for the neediest in our community, but the pharmaceutical industry wants to curtail it in Washington.

Signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1992, the program requires drug companies to sell discounted medications to healthcare providers that serve high numbers of low-income, Medicare and Medicaid patients or are located in remote rural areas.

Safety-net hospitals like John Peter Smith pass the discounts on to needy patients and also use savings from the program to fund cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and primary care clinics that help the under-served.

Unfortunately, this critically important program is at risk.

In recent years, pharmaceutical manufacturers have become less willing to share their profits to help those in need, and now they want to gut the 340B program in Congress by limiting hospital and patient eligibility.

They’ve taken this position even though 340B drugs amount to just 2 percent of the $457 billion annual U.S. pharmaceutical market.

JPS provides $742 million in uncompensated care annually.

The 340B program saves us about $50 million per year, and that allows us to keep offering essential services to our neediest patients, including the more than 42,000 enrolled in JPS Connection as of June 2016.

JPS Connection provides reduced copays for appointments, specialized care and prescriptions.

The 340B program also helps us offset the cost of operating our community’s only Level 1 trauma center and only emergency psychiatric center.

We also operate 20 school-based health centers located on public school campuses primarily in low-income neighborhoods.

Savings from 340B help us provide primary care services to more than 45,000 students and their siblings annually.

Texas has 138 hospitals participating in the 340B program.

These safety-net facilities serve nearly twice as many needy patients as other providers.

They also supply nearly 60 percent of all uncompensated care.

It’s important to understand that 340B is not taxpayer-funded, but instead requires drug companies to give a discount to health care providers who serve our most vulnerable local residents.

Simply put, these companies can afford to help.

If the program were significantly reduced or eliminated, JPS would be forced to cut back clinical care and medication access to the needy.

We are committed to serving Tarrant County for many years to come.

I encourage readers to contact their members of Congress and ask them to protect the 340B drug discount pricing program.

Our residents deserve nothing less than the best healthcare.

R. William Whitman is the chief operating officer of JPS Health Network, Tarrant County’s publicly supported healthcare system.