A Missouri bill that is on cruise control would increase access to discounted drugs for uninsured and low-income patients. A state House committee has given its blessing Wednesday to the proposal that would put a stop to pharmaceutical companies restricting 340B drug discount contracts between Missouri hospitals, healthcare centers, and local pharmacies.

Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, said his bill would prioritize patient care and “reign in Big Pharma.”

“This program has been important to the financial viability of many of our rural providers,” Brown told the Special Committee on Public Policy. “In the past decade, 10 (Missouri) hospitals have closed and many others have operated a loss. My legislation can mean the difference between whether or not a hospital stays open or closes.”

Todd Ahrens, of Hannibal Regional Healthcare System, supports the bill.

“This is important for rural health care,” said Ahrens. “Certainly something that if we can go through, and get passed, and be signed by the governor, would support rural hospitals, reduce the risk of closures to support them financially.”

Scott Crouch, CEO of Ozarks Community Health Center, said 2023 records of 10,000 patients show more than $100,000 in medication expenses were saved as a result of the program.

“I mean, you can’t say that’s not a big deal,” he said. “That increases access. It makes it more affordable for everybody – that is with the restrictions we’ve had in place. This bill would take away those restrictions. Even though we can’t quantify how much savings that would be, we know it’d be great – two, three times what we’ve been able to save our patients.”

He said his center is using funding from the discount drug program to transport patients to their clinic appointments.

The Missouri Pharmacy Association’s Jorgan Schlemeier said patients should be able to access these drugs at a local pharmacy, instead of being forced to drive further.

“When people can’t access their medication, and then have to access the emergency room instead, we all pay for that. Giving people access to their medication is the most effective thing that we can do to help the health status of our state,” said Schlemeier.

Karen White, CEO of Missouri Highlands Healthcare in southern Missouri, said current restrictions require her to choose a pharmacy to fill these medications for the patients in her seven-county region. She has some patients driving two hours to get their prescriptions.

“People want to be well, but when we make it so challenging that they cannot do so, that’s when we fail our patients, we fail our communities,” she said.

Angie Brooks, with Four Rivers Community Health Center in Rolla, said her center is a safety net for many people.

“My patients are having to drive an hour, or we are trying to drive a community health worker out there for some of their drugs – to get it delivered to them because these patients who have to drive an hour, they don’t have the money to drive. They don’t even maybe sometimes have the transportation in rural communities,” she said.

On the opposing side, Drew Duncan, with drug company Pfizer, said it supports the 340B program, but said the federal program is not saving patients much money.

“Needy patients often see no benefit from the discounts provided by manufacturers under the 340B program because covered entities and their contract pharmacies often do not pass along those discounts to your constituents,” he said.

Kelly Gillespie, with the Missouri Biotechnology Association, also opposes the bill. He said the state has several drug manufacturers and thousands of employees that could be affected by this bill.

“When you’re tinkering in the private marketplace, and you are in some ways on this one, trying to decide if it’s appropriate to pick a winner or loser, and is the populist vote out there to go and take on larger pharma companies, make sure you get it right because you are impacting other Missourians,” he said.

Another Missouri House committee is expected to make a decision soon on the measure.

For more information on Senate Bill 751, click here.

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