Letter to the Editor

Drug discount program helps hospital care for patients

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Preserving local access to care is one of the most important components of a healthy community. At Community Hospital in McCook, Nebraska, we help all of our patients get the care and medicine they need to get better and remain healthy. However, patients are not just the people who walk through our doors; our definition is everyone in our area. In our view, the hospital's work is not contained inside its walls. Our mission is in our name: we serve the Community at large.

We treat everyone, including our nation's most vulnerable patients. These are the men, women and children who would otherwise not be able to afford or access health care when they need it most.

Providing access to quality care for the entire community is a tall order, but a little-known federal program lends a helping hand. Established in 1992, the "340B" program requires pharmaceutical companies to give discounts on drugs to hospitals serving critical populations, including small, rural "critical access" hospitals like ours. As a critical access hospital, we are responsible for the well-being of patients in a large section of southwestern Nebraska, comprising McCook and nine surrounding counties.

Because the program is funded entirely by the discounts hospitals like ours receive from drug companies, it doesn't cost taxpayers a cent. In fact, the program helps taxpayers save money by helping hospitals keep their patients healthy and out the emergency room.

In the half decade we have been involved in this program, we have been able to put the savings we receive from the discounts to good work. Thanks to the savings we've seen from the 340B program, we are able to run our Home Health and Hospice Care Services programs throughout the entire area.

Through these programs we send caretakers out, sometimes driving well over an hour, to provide health services in the comfort of the patients' own homes. Savings on prescription drugs have been used to support this outreach to patients in homes, nursing homes, and hospitals inside and outside of our county. We send speech therapists, occupational therapists, and registered dieticians (all of whom are necessary components of effective treatment) all around the surrounding area, where these types of services may be sparse or so that patients can receive specialized care closer to home. Many care providers in these areas struggle to maintain and offer certain types of necessary care, so we help fulfill what they may not be able to.

Unfortunately, some in the pharmaceutical industry want to change or eliminate the 340B drug discount program, even though it represents just 2 percent of U.S. drug revenues, which amounted to a whopping $329 billion in 2013, according to an April 2014 report by IMS Health.

Roughly 70 percent of the patients we see at Community Hospital are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or are uninsured. At our hospital alone, our financial assistance program totaled nearly $1.3 million in 2014. This is a huge cost on our hospital, and to stay alive we must have helping hands.

Without this program, though, McCook and many surrounding counties could lose both important jobs and critical services, and our efforts to serve all of our patients with the best care possible would be compromised. Access to care would decrease, and many members would be left with no options in regards to their care. Our congressional representatives need to protect 340B and rebuff drug industry efforts to scale back the program.

Jim Ulrich is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Hospital in McCook.

Troy Bruntz is the Chief Financial Officer of Community Hospital in McCook.

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