Hundred dollar bills rolled up in a pill bottle

Ensuring 340B Discounts Trickle Down to Low-Income Patients

By Sravya Chary

The 340B prescription drug program was created with the original intent of providing discounted drugs to vulnerable patients. However, this program inadvertently created a revenue stream for for-profit retail pharmacies and intermediaries, which is cutting into the benefit received by low-income patients.

In a previous blog post, I discussed the pitfalls of a recent 340B advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The aim of this opinion was to provide more clarity regarding contract pharmacy use within the 340B program. However, the opinion ultimately did not alleviate the tension between pharmaceutical manufacturers and 340B representatives.

As one facet of a long-term solution to this ongoing issue, I proposed further investigation of 340B savings to analyze whether discounts are truly trickling down to vulnerable, low-income patients.

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Pill pack.

HHS’s 340B Advisory Opinion: Helpful or Harmful?

By Sravya Chary

A recent advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) left many 340B advocates hungry for answers and pharmaceutical manufacturers frustrated.

The 340B program discounts the price of drugs paid by safety net hospitals to pharmaceutical manufacturers. The program is of critical importance to low-income and uninsured patients, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS should take timely measures to resolve the concerns raised by the advisory opinion and resume the free flow of 340B discounted drugs to vulnerable patients.

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Doctor or surgeon with organ transport after organ donation for surgery in front of the clinic in protective clothing.

Recent Organ Procurement Organization Regulations Will Save Lives

By Matthew Wadsworth

Thirty-three Americans die every day for lack of an organ transplant. As the CEO of an organ procurement organization (OPO) — one of the network of 57 government contractors responsible for organ recovery across the country — this is what I think about every day: how to help the 3,000 people waiting in my home state of Ohio and the more than 100,000 others around the country who wake up each morning hoping they get a call that a transplant is available.

Fortunately, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published new, pro-patient regulations to bring baseline accountability to OPOs. While some of my peers have opposed the reform effort, I see it as long overdue.

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Xavier Becerra.

Questions for HHS Secretary Nominee Xavier Becerra

By Abe Sutton

With the 2020 election in the rearview mirror, the Senate has turned its attention to vetting President-elect Biden’s cabinet nominees. As Senators on the Finance and HELP committees prepare their questions for California AG Xavier Becerra, the nominee for Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, they should consider probing in three areas to understand his health policy priorities.

In this post, I suggest Senators consider asking the nominee about his plans for the future of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), as well as how he aims to encourage healthcare competition and foster innovation.

His answers may be illuminative about his potential tenure as secretary, and should factor into Senators’ decisions on whether to vote for confirmation amid questions regarding his qualifications. Senators may also wish to weigh the nominee’s moral and human services priorities, topics not discussed in this post.

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organ transplant

New Regulations for Organ Procurement Organizations Pose Concerns

By Alexandra Glazier

The United States has one of the highest organ donation and transplant rates in the world. A poorly crafted regulatory change could disrupt our world-leading system and put patients at risk.

Recently, new performance regulations for organ procurement organizations (OPOs) were promulgated by CMS in the last stretch of the Trump Administration, which should be reviewed by the incoming Biden Administration.

While there is widespread support for reform to the system of organ donation and transplantation, including consensus that changes to the CMS metrics measuring OPO performance are warranted, there are significant differences in opinion on how that can be accomplished best.

Bipartisan groups and delegations of both Democrats and Republicans, donor families, the medical community, and donation and transplant professionals as well as OPOs have raised a range of concerns about specific aspects of the proposed and final regulations, making suggestions on how the regulations could be improved to achieve the goal of transplanting more patients.

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

HHS Recognizes Key Role of Telehealth in Amended PREP Act Declaration

By Vrushab Gowda

On December 3rd, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended its provisions to cover telehealth services in amending its Declaration Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) for Medical Countermeasures Against COVID–19.

This represents the first time HHS has covered telehealth services under the authority of the PREP Act. Telehealth providers are now permitted to deliver a range of COVID-related care across the country, including states in which they do not hold professional licenses. The Declaration, moreover, offers them expansive liability protection, effectively immunizing them against a host of claims in connection to their administration of designated countermeasures.

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Adult and child holding kidney shaped paper on textured blue background.

New Regulation Aims at Accountability for Organ Procurement Organizations

By James W. Lytle and Abe Sutton

Facing a looming deadline for the adoption of pending proposed rules, the Trump Administration finalized a host of healthcare regulations, including highly anticipated regulations addressing drug pricing and Stark Law/anti-kickback rules. Within this flurry of regulatory activity, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also finalized an important, but not as widely discussed, proposal that seeks to hold Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) more accountable for their performance.

While some of these last-minute actions by the outgoing administration may ultimately be reversed or revised by the Biden Administration, this rule was associated with a well-regarded Advancing American Kidney Health initiative that has been “widely hailed by health care groups, patient advocacy organizations and Democrats,” making it “the most broadly popular health initiative of Trump’s presidency.” While its fate is not entirely certain, the recently issued final rule may be one of the few last-minute legacies of the Trump Administration likely to be more warmly received by its successor.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

Federal COVID-19 Response Unlawfully Blocks State Public Health Efforts

By Barbara J. Evans and Ellen Wright Clayton

The federal government recently used preemption unlawfully to prevent state public health efforts to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19.

As 1,000 current and former CDC epidemiologists noted in an open letter, the federal government has failed to use legal powers it does have to manage the crisis, leaving states to “invent their own differing systems” to manage COVID-19. We add that the federal government is now asserting emergency powers it does not have to disable state public health responses.

Early this month, Nevada officials halted the use of two rapid coronavirus tests that produced high false-positive rates when used for screening vulnerable people in Nevada’s nursing homes, assisted-living, long-term care, and other congregate facilities. More than half the positive test results were false.

On October 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a letter threatening that the Nevada officials’ action was “inconsistent with and preempted by federal law and, as such, must cease immediately or appropriate action will be taken against those involved.” Nevada yielded to this threat and, on October 9, removed its directive to stop using the tests.

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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

Duplicate Discounts Threaten the 340B Program During COVID-19

By Sravya Chary

The 340B program, which provides discount drugs to safety-net hospitals, faces an uncertain future due to revenue leakage faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers and increased demand spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few months, growing demand for 340B drugs and hard-to-monitor billing issues have placed an immense and unforeseen financial burden on pharmaceutical manufacturers. In response, some pharmaceutical manufacturers have threatened to withhold 340B drugs from contract pharmacies, thus limiting access to steeply discounted drugs for eligible patients.

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CMS Prohibits Arbitration Clauses in Long-Term Care Facility Contracts

By Wendy S. Salkin

On Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)—an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—released a final rule that “will revise the requirements that Long-Term Care facilities [LTCs] must meet to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs” (1). (Almost all LTCs receive funds from Medicare or Medicaid.) This is the first time that these requirements have been “comprehensively reviewed and updated since 1991” (6)—that is, in the past 25 years. One of the most striking changes to the regulation is found in §483.65, where CMS “require[es] that facilities must not enter into an agreement for binding arbitration with a resident or their representative until after a dispute arises between the parties” (12) which means that CMS is “prohibiting the use of pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements” (12). Among the reasons provided by CMS for this change is a recognition of the notable power differential between LTCs and their residents:

There is a significant differential in bargaining power between LTC facility residents and LTC facilities. LTC agreements are often made when the would-be resident is physically and possibly mentally impaired, and is encountering such a facility for the first time. In many cases, geographic and financial restrictions severely limit the choices available to a LTC resident and his/her family. LTC facilities are also, in many cases, the resident’s residence. These facilities not only provide skilled nursing care, but also everything else a resident needs. Many of these residents may reside there for a prolonged period of time, some for the rest of their lives. Because of the wide array of services provided and the length of time the resident and his/her family may have interactions with the LTC facility, disputes over medical treatment, personal safety, treatment of residents, and quality of services provided are likely to occur. Given the unique circumstances of LTC facilities, we have concluded that it is unconscionable for LTC facilities to demand, as a condition of admission, that residents or their representatives sign a pre-dispute agreement for binding arbitration that covers any type of disputes between the parties for the duration of the resident’s entire stay, which could be for many years. (402-403)

As The New York Times reported, when the rule was first proposed in July 2015, it was “aimed at improving disclosure.” But, this final version of the rule “went a step further than the draft, cutting off funding to facilities that require arbitration clauses as a condition of admission.”

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