Commentary: Continue drug pricing program for families in need

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Last year, as my little girl was transitioning to adulthood, she experienced headaches so painful that we raced to the hospital fearing meningitis. The doctors at Dell Children’s quickly ruled out that risk, but it took two months to pinpoint Ariana’s condition, a normally benign disease that was attacking her central nervous system called juvenile xanthogranuloma.

Today, at 17, Ariana has completed her second round of chemotherapy at Children’s Blood and Cancer Center of Dell Children’s. Though hospitalized several times in the past year, most of her care is outpatient at the Blood and Cancer Center. She also takes 30 pills a day, including anti-seizure medication and steroids. Our family remains hopeful that she’ll be cured.

Ariana’s mother and I both work in health care, which everyone knows is undergoing dramatic transformation. I’m a licensed vocational nurse at a senior care facility and my wife, Martha is a clinical nurse assistant. Good jobs, but without a financial assist from Seton, part of Ascension, the nation’s leading non-profit health care system, we’d be covered up in debt.

Courtesy US Army/WikiMedia

The 340B Drug Pricing Program was created by Congress more than two decades ago to help all patients get needed prescription medicines. It requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations – particularly those in disadvantaged, underserved and rural communities – at significantly reduced prices.

Prescription drug prices are expensive and rising rapidly. Last year, about $457 billion was spent on prescription drugs, accounting for 16.7 percent of overall personal health care services, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). Prescription medication prices are increasing far faster than any other aspect of health care. The chief pharmacist at Seton says their system’s drug spending rose 10 percent last year.

The 340B Drug Pricing Program was created by Congress more than two decades ago to help all patients get needed prescription medicines. It requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations – particularly those in disadvantaged, underserved and rural communities – at significantly reduced prices. It helps vulnerable populations like lower income families afford the best care possible.

While 340B drugs amount to only two percent of all medicines purchased in the U.S., and the program makes an enormous impact when it comes to making drug therapy more affordable, there is talk of significantly scaling back the program. That would destabilize facilities that doing the most to care for our community and creating more uncertainty and potentially harm to patients and their families.

The folks at Dell Children’s have provided great care to Ariana and much compassion to our family. The Seton Patient Financial Services team has treated us with dignity and respect while helping us make Ariana’s care affordable. Dell Children’s, Seton and Ascension rely on the 340B program to deliver the best care and services possible regardless of our family income.

Please join us in urging Congress to continue looking at soaring prescription drug prices and keeping the 340B reduced-price prescription drug program intact.

This story was originally published in the Austin-American Statesman on September 1, 2016.