Terry Whitt Bailey: Reforming federal program gives cancer patients glimmer of hope

Here in Indiana, 53 of the 92 counties have a shortage of primary health providers. For cancer patients, this means they not only face the daily battle against a life-threatening illness but also struggle with limited access to care.

These multifaceted challenges can significantly impact patients’ ability to receive timely and adequate treatment. As the president and CEO of the Cancer Support Community Indiana (CSC), my team and I make it our goal to support all patients, but especially vulnerable patient groups in the fight for affordable and effective medications, treatments and services that keep them alive.

A crucial aspect of CSC is advocating for policies that prioritize patient-centered care and recognizing the government leaders pushing for these changes. One leader in particular that I’d like to recognize Indiana’s 8th District Congressman, Dr. Larry Bucshon, for being a clear voice in reforming a key program that is impeding patient access and affordability.

He is the lead author of the 340B ACCESS Act (Affording Care for Communities & Ensuring a Strong Safety-net Act), a bill that attempts to reform the program known as 340B. In 1992, 340B was implemented to help health care providers serving vulnerable patients and communities manage rising prescription drug costs. These providers receive large discounts on medicines and in turn are meant to use those savings to lower the cost of care for underserved patient populations.

Over the years, the program has slipped through the cracks and, unfortunately, lost its focus. A lack of transparency as well as flaws in the program’s structure and reporting accountability have allowed some participants to run free and use any generated savings for their own benefit rather than the benefit of vulnerable patient groups in need.

The lack of meaningful 340B regulation has also perpetuated a dramatic increase in health care costs for some cancer patients in Indiana. According to a 2022 report from the Community Oncology Alliance (COA), some 340B participants are marking up the price of cancer drugs by as much as 11 times the cost.

These are only a few of the issues surrounding the current state of 340B, and the program is in desperate need of reform. The hope for this bill is to reform the 340B program and act as a true safety net program for struggling patients. Of the 31 million Americans relying on these resources for their medical care, 90% are low-income, and 41% live in rural communities. These are the types of patients that the program was originally created for, but many times these are the people who fall through the cracks.

In a time where there are major issues dominating the news throughout the world, I applaud Congressman Bucshon for pushing this positive effort in our health care industry. This legislation is not about pointing fingers or placing blame. Instead, it’s collaborative efforts like these that will change the scope of access to care and ease the heavy burden of treatment costs.

It’s essential for leaders to understand patient needs and take action for accessible care. Reforming the 340B program is the glimmer of hope that Hoosier cancer patients need.

Dr. Terry Whitt Bailey is the president & CEO of Cancer Support Community Indiana. This commentary previously appeared at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].