Last year we looked at efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to cut back on or eliminate the 340B Drug Pricing Program. With the election fast approaching and the emergence of two candidates who both seem to be pretty friendly to Big Pharma, this push has quietly continued in the background while the media focuses on the more flashy aspects of the presidential race. One example is this editorial by Ellen Weaver and Lindsay Boyd at The Hill in June.
The presidential campaign has revealed widespread public anger about government programs that don’t seem to work as intended. Among the litany of concerns we hear in South Carolina and Tennessee is the affordability of prescription drugs, especially for poor uninsured or underinsured patients. One easy step Congress should take to answer these grievances: establish oversight and accountability for the 340B drug discount program that was meant to help low-income patients. It’s long past time to end its widespread abuse by hospitals seeking to fatten their bottom lines at the expense of these patients.
That’s a pretty good sales pitch and is designed to gin up anger at hospitals and medical providers over the high cost of many drugs, but does anyone believe that it’s the doctors who are driving these costs all by themselves? The chief author of that pitch, Ellen Weaver, turns out to be the head honcho at the Palmetto Promise Institute, a think thank founded by Jim DeMint, which seems to be quite friendly with the pharmaceutical industry. (DeMint, even for all of his excellent work in fighting against Obamacare, has a record of voting in ways the pharmaceutical industry likes fairly consistently.)
For those not familiar, 340B is a federal program the drug companies agreed to in exchange for getting access to vast quantities of entitlement money. The program was designed to get medication into the hands of poorer Americans, primarily in rural communities, more cheaply, and some of the primary beneficiaries are people getting cancer treatment in outpatient settings. Big Pharma hates it because lower costs equal lower profits so they’ve been appealing to their former partners in bringing you Obamacare – both the Obama administration and Republicans who have opposed pricing reform – to kill it off.
An explanation of why Big Pharma doesn’t want to pay for the cancer medicines under discussion was offer by the Motley Fool recently. It turns out that new cancer drugs are really, really, really expensive.
But the one factor that really stands out regarding the 20 cancer drugs approved since September 2014 is that they’re essentially all extremely expensive for both the consumer and insurance companies…
With the exception of Yondelis, a chemotherapy treatment administered to treat soft tissue sarcomas, there isn’t a single cancer drug approved since September 2014 that costs less than $104,000 annually at the wholesale level.
That’s a lot of money. And what Big Pharma wants is to kill off a program that’s stopping it from selling these drugs at top dollar while simultaneously retaining the industry’s access to huge sums of taxpayer cash via entitlement programs. That’s flat out cronyism, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that should be putting conservatives off their feed.
If Big Pharma wants to give up all the entitlement dollars they’re getting from this gift horse, then fine… let’s take a look at dropping or scaling back 340B. (Though that could be political suicide at a time when voters are already screaming over the skyrocketing cost of all things related to their medical bills under Obamacare.) But until then, dropping the program benefits nobody but the pharmaceutical industry, not those intended to get easier access to live saving drugs from it.