Bill Cassidy

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., right, arrives as Congress prepares to vote on the biggest reshaping of the U.S. tax code in three decades, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: DCAH124

Helping Louisiana's citizens afford their prescription drugs is a critical issue and one step in that direction would be the passage of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy's bill to reform the federal 340B Prescription Drug Discount Program.

As a doctor, Cassidy knows the importance of affordable prescription drugs to the health of Louisiana citizens. As a lawmaker, Cassidy is aware that Congress created the 340B program in 1992 to help vulnerable and uninsured patients pay for their prescription drugs, especially those who are patients of community health clinics. These clinics and their patients continue to use the program as intended and with a strong degree of accountability.

Like so many federal government programs, 340B's original intent is hardly recognizable today. The needs of patients seem to have been forgotten in the rush to pad hospitals' bottom lines and to make big profits for chain drugstores.

In response, Cassidy authored the HELP Act (Helping Ensure Low-income Patients have Access to Care and Treatment). His bill will reform the 340B Drug Discount Program and help hold participating hospitals accountable for passing discounts they receive from drug manufacturers on to patients in need.

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Today, many of the 340B hospitals who are able to buy drugs at discounts of as much a 40-50 percent, do not lower drug prices for their patients. Instead, they choose to sell the discounted drugs to fully insured patients at full price, keeping the profits for themselves. That is not right.

Harvard Medical School professor J. Michael McWilliams, MD, Ph.D., published a study in February 2018 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine "which suggests the program has been a financial boon to eligible hospitals but it not clearly meeting the goals in terms of better serving the underserved." He goes on to say that "the study also found no evidence of participating hospitals using profits from the program to invest in community health centers or enhance care in ways that would lower mortality for low-income populations in the hospitals' local communities."

Thankfully, Cassidy's HELP Act would bring new accountability and oversight to the 340B Drug Discount Program. As President Trump and Congress work to provide lower costs for prescription drugs to Americans, I hope Congress will work with Cassidy to fix the 340B drug discount program by passing the HELP Act.

Paul Hollis

state representative