The 340B program “is a really successful program and it hasn’t really cut the profits of the pharmaceutical companies dramatically,” U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Friday during a visit to a Chicago-based community health center.
Durbin is the second ranking Democratic senator after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and takes the lead in solidifying support for Senate Democratic initiatives. He was accompanied by U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) as they traveled to one of Erie Family Health Center’s 13 Chicago-area locations to speak about lowering drug costs and addressing health care workforce shortages.
Erie’s participation in 340B “allows us to access for our patients critical medications, to afford them—insulin, asthma inhalers, blood pressure medicines, medications to prevent HIV, suboxone to treat opioid use disorder, and so many more lifesaving drugs,” said Erie President and CEO Dr. Lee Francis while introducing Durbin to reporters covering his visit. “When uninsured patients use the program, providers like Erie get that discount directly to the patient. And when an insured patient uses the program, providers like Erie generate savings, which we are required by law to reinvest into the programs that we have—100% into expanding access for our patients.”
“By restricting access to 340B discounts, drug companies are increasingly making their drugs less accessible instead of more accessible,” Francis said.
Fighting “tooth and nail to protect” 340B
“The dramatic increase in the cost of basic drugs like insulin is attributable to an industry that’s making profits hand over fist,” Durbin said. “Dr. Francis talked about the 340B program…. We said to the pharmaceutical companies [that] in specified settings—and this is one of them, this community health clinic—we want you to offer prescription drugs at a deep discount. We want to take the benefits of the profits off that [discount] and put them back into the future of these clinics. It helps the patients, doctors are able to pick the right drug, and ultimately the costs are dramatically reduced. We’re fighting the pharmaceutical industry tooth and nail to protect this right.”
A reporter asked Durbin to explain the threat to 340B and what is being done about it.
“The pharmaceutical companies don’t want to continue to offer these deep discounts to clinics like Erie,” Durbin said. “It cuts into their profit margin. And when you consider the fact that something as basic as insulin, where we’re paying $300 for a dose of insulin each month in the United States and exactly the same drug made by the same company is only $50 in Canada, you think to yourself, ‘They are looking at our country in a negative way instead of a positive way.’”
“They can be profitable,” Durbin continued. “They may have to cut back on their TV ads, I’m sorry to say, a little bit. They can be profitable, and they can do research to find new drugs and still get people the access to affordable drugs, that’s the bottom line.”