U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced yesterday he will not run for reelection in 2022. His retirement will deprive 340B covered entities of a reliable Senate Republican ally come 2023.
Although Portman is not on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with primary jurisdiction over 340B, he is on the Finance Committee with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid. Portman has been one of the most active members of the Senate when it comes to the 340B program and has worked closely with a group of colleagues including minority whip John Thune (R-S.D.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on legislation and other efforts that are considered 340B provider friendly.
“Sen. Portman knew from the start that safety net providers are the backbone of our health care system and acted to protect the 340B program for those providers and the communities they serve. We hope to see him continue those efforts through the end of his term, when arguably we are at the most tenuous place in the history of the 340B program,” says Peggy Tighe, counsel to Ryan White Clinics for 340B Access (RWC-340B), a national advocacy group representing HIV/AIDS clinics and service providers.
During the last session of Congress, Portman co-sponsored legislation to protect hospitals from losing eligibility for 340B drug discounts during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was a co-leader of a bipartisan letter urging federal health officials “to take immediate and appropriate enforcement action to halt” manufacturers’ denials of 340B pricing on drugs dispensed by contract pharmacies.
In 2017, Portman and the same group of six Republicans and Democrats behind last year’s contract pharmacy letter urged then-U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and then-Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma to reconsider cutting Medicare Part B reimbursement to hospitals for 340B-purchased drugs by nearly 30 percent.
“This doesn’t mean I’m leaving now—I still have two more years in my term and I intend to use that time to get a lot done,” Portman said in a statement to his hometown newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I will be the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and I have a number of oversight projects and legislative initiatives I’m eager to get across the finish line. Over the next two years, I look forward to being able to focus all my energy on legislation and the challenges our country faces rather than on fundraising and campaigning.”
While Ohio leans Republican, Portman’s seat could be vulnerable to a strong Democratic candidate. This is particularly the case if there is contested Republican primary or the GOP voters select a candidate considered too conservative to win a general election. The Senate is now evenly divided, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats in the majority due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.