On a recent day, an uninsured patient walked into a pharmacy at one of the state’s community health centers to pick up his insulin prescription, which historically cost him less than $16 each month. But the patient was then told his cost would be more than $546 per month, because the pharmaceutical manufacturer wasn’t allowing it to be priced at what had been a customarily discounted rate. The patient was stunned and was left wondering what he was going to do next.
It’s an appalling story that has happened before and can happen again, unless the state legislature takes action — there is currently legislation pending in the State House — to keep such things from happening in the future.
Hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents depend every day on access to this vital prescription drug program that benefits all community health center patients in Connecticut. The program, known as the 340B drug discount program, significantly helps every one of these patients, and these benefits come at no cost to taxpayers — through this program, health centers are able to reduce drug costs for patients that need access to vital medications.
These are medications that treat diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and depression, and patients literally cannot live without. In other words, they are critical, potentially life-saving medications.
The 340B program is a critical part of the healthcare safety net in our state, and right now it is more important than ever, as numerous drug manufacturers are currently restricting patient access to medicine, as illustrated in the story summarized above. Drug manufacturers Merck, Sanofi, Astra Zeneca, Eli Lilly, Glaxo Smith Kline and Gilead have all restricted shipments of 340B priced drugs to neighborhood (or “contract”) pharmacies, and in most cases, have allowed our health centers to only be able to send our patients to one pharmacy to access medications at these prices. These restrictions, which the manufacturers have placed on drug shipments, have impacted our patients’ ability to manage their health because they cannot afford their medications without the 340B drug discount program.
The good news is this pending legislation would protect 340B and patient access, and would ensure that health centers can continue to operate programs that advance health equity in our communities. Specifically, there are two key legislative components: it requires that drug manufacturers honor their commitments to ship to neighborhood (or “contract”) pharmacies; and it protects health centers from discriminatory contracting practices by Pharmacy Benefits Managers.
Both of these pieces are absolutely critical to the future of our health centers and the health of our patients.
We have been told that the Governor’s office and many legislators are receiving heavy pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to remove the provisions in the proposed bill that protect our patients’ access to 340B price drugs. Without this legislation, there’s nothing protecting our patients from having their medications restricted, and there will be nothing preventing other drug manufacturers from implementing new restrictions. It is imperative that we pass protections for this program into law to protect our patients and their families from being at the mercy of drug companies.
We are grateful to Governor Lamont for bringing this legislation forward, and to the many legislative champions of our health centers who have voted for and advocated for the passage of these vital protections. As we enter the final days of the legislative session, this is the solution to, and protection from, the discriminatory practices of Pharmacy Benefits Managers.
There are thousands of stories, like the one above, all over Connecticut at our community health centers, involving patients who cannot afford their medicine because of the actions of drug companies. This will give them the access to the critical prescription medications they need at an affordable price, which is why all of our member health centers are working so hard to pass this legislation. Our patients deserve nothing less.