President Biden has frozen a Trump-era regulation that would adversely impact Community Health Centers and the nearly 30 million patients they serve – a majority of whom are living in poverty or are uninsured. The regulation, which was based on an Executive Order issued last July, was based on a fundamental misunderstanding that would have imposed extensive administrative burdens and targeted EpiPens and insulin dispensed by health centers and purchased under the federal 340B drug discount program. The stated aim was to cut drug prices. However, it triggered alarm among safety-net health care providers and bipartisan lawmakers because it would accomplish the opposite of what the Trump Administration intended — ultimately making it harder for health centers to provide affordable life-saving services and prescription drugs — especially during the pandemic. To be clear, the insulin and Epipen regulation that was frozen by the Biden Administration only affects medications purchased through the 340B drug discount program at health centers. The overall prices of insulin and Epipens across the country are not affected by the Trump Administration regulation or the recent action by the Biden Administration.
“We are deeply grateful the Biden Administration put the brakes on such a harmful rule within hours of taking office. Health centers, bipartisan Members of Congress and leaders within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have indicated that this rule will do more harm than good at a time when too many people are suffering,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of NACHC. “We hope that this is further acknowledgment that a pandemic is no time to destabilize the safety net. Certainly, the high cost of prescriptions remains a national crisis – but health centers are already part of the solution to this problem, and the regulation would have burdened them with excessive red tape without doing anything to lower how much drug companies charge for drugs.”
Health centers readily acknowledge that the costs of pharmaceuticals in this country are too expensive for most Americans, especially for our low-income friends and family members and for the nation’s most medically underserved. This is why NACHC works so hard to protect the vital 340B program — to keep prescription prices low for our patients. NACHC has made protecting the 340B program at health centers a top priority as the White House EO and subsequent regulation was part of a series of assaults on the program in recent months. Members of Congress from both parties joined with health center leaders in expressing concern about the EO and highlighted health centers as excellent stewards of the 340B program, using the savings it generated as Congress intended.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) was among the lawmakers who spearheaded a letter to HHS requesting they rescind or decline to enforce the EO. “By targeting the centers providing these medications to those without insurance or the means to get the care instead of big pharmaceutical companies, HHS risks making things worse for a community already in need,” said Axne in a press release. “Community Health Centers provide critical lifelines in our communities. They aren’t the reason why drug costs, especially insulin costs, are too high in this country.”
From 2009-19, drug makers tripled the prices of common types of insulin in the U.S, for no evident reason. The longstanding mission of health centers has been to ensure that all individuals can afford the pharmaceuticals and medical services they need – regardless of their ability to pay. Health centers offer sliding fee discounts for all persons with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.
Established in 1971, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) serves as the national voice for America’s Health Centers and as an advocate for health care access for the medically underserved and uninsured.