yesterday's post on the booming 340B contract pharmacy market, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the first of its three planned reports on the 340B drug discount program: Contract Pharmacy Arrangements in the 340B Program.
OIG’s research confirms many long-suspected problems regarding oversight, diversion, and the mystery methodologies for identifying 340B-eligible prescriptions.
But here's what's most troubling: the neediest patients are not benefiting from 340B discounts. In OIG’s sample, two-thirds of the hospitals do not offer the 340B price to uninsured patients. Wow.
These 340B contract pharmacy shenanigans need to stop. Based on the OIG report, uninsured and indigent patients aren’t benefiting from 340B drug discounts. Hospitals should stop hiding behind vague language about “stretching scare federal resources” and come clean about who really gains from 340B contract pharmacies.
Read on for highlights from this depressing report on the out-of-control 340B program.
WHAT OIG FOUND
OIG studied 30 covered entities—15 community health centers and 15 Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH). The 30 covered entities had contract pharmacy arrangements with 199 unique contract pharmacies, or 6.6 pharmacies per entity. Five entities had networks with 10 or more contract pharmacies. For background on 340B contract pharmacies, see yesterday’s related article Walgreens Still Dominates Booming 340B Contract Pharmacy Market, with CVS and Rite Aid Right Behind.
Here’s the OIG’s most shocking revelation:
“Additionally, we found that some covered entities in our study do not offer the discounted 340B price to uninsured patients at their contract pharmacies. Neither the 340B statute nor HRSA guidance addresses whether covered entities must do so; however, if covered entities do not, uninsured patients pay the full non-340B price for their prescription drugs at contract pharmacies.”Using data buried in the text on page 13, I created the following summary chart.
[Click to Enlarge]
Your eyes do not deceive you. Thirteen of the community health centers reported offering the discounted 340B price to uninsured patients in at least one of their contract pharmacy arrangements. However, only five hospitals offer the 340B discount price to uninsured patients, who pay the full non-340B price for prescriptions filled at contract pharmacies.
Where’s the money from this soak-the-poor strategy? No one knows.
I will reiterate the conclusion from my editorial Hospitals twist prescription assistance program for their own benefit in The Hill:
“To ensure that the program’s funds are being used appropriately, Congress should require that hospitals fully disclose how they use their 340B pharmacy profits. By allowing hospital’s to retain and then spend all 340B pharmacy profits, neither Medicare nor patients benefit from 340B drug discounts... Hospitals’ use of contract pharmacy networks should be scrutinized to be consistent with the program’s true intent. It’s time to modernize the 340B program and help the neediest patients access valuable medicines.”OTHER PROBLEMS
The OIG’s report uncovers many other unpleasant (but not unexpected) problems due to the lack of regulatory standards and proper oversight.
Different entities have different standards for identifying 340B-eligible prescriptions. On pages 10-12, the OIG highlights four common scenarios that would result in differing determinations of 340B eligibility across covered entities, i.e., “two covered entities may categorize similar types of prescriptions differently (i.e., 340B-eligible versus not 340B-eligible) in their contract pharmacy arrangements.”
Put another way, diversion is in the eye of the beholder. This also means that OIG exaggerates the extent of oversight activities, especially given hospitals' for-profit mentality when it comes to contract pharmacy networks.
The OIG states: “Twenty-five of thirty covered entities reported that they monitor their contract pharmacy arrangements internally to detect potential diversion or duplicate discounts.” This is laughable. Since there are no consistent standards for identifying 340B-eligible prescriptions, 340B entities are monitoring diversion based on widely-varying, self-determined definitions of diversion. So, nothing to see here, move along?
The OIG is silent on many crucial questions:
- How (if at all) do 340B entities track the profits generated by 340B prescriptions? Where do these profits go?
- How are 340B entities monitoring mega-networks with 50 or more pharmacies? How do they monitor out-of-state mail pharmacies?
- How are contract pharmacy fees determined?
- Why won't 340B entities identify 340B-eligible third-party prescriptions paid by Medicare Part D and commercial health plans? (These are the hidden “duplicate manufacturer discounts” that no one ever mentions.)