Could More Small and Rural Hospitals Fully Utilize the 340B Drug Pricing Program?

Nicole Faucher, President
January 18, 2024

Understanding the ROI of an In-House Specialty Pharmacy

By Nicole Faucher, MA, Clearway Health President

The 340B Program provides eligible hospitals and health systems resources not associated with federal subsidy, to administer comprehensive healthcare to patients and communities disproportionately affected by social, economic and environmental disparities. The program requires drug manufacturers participating in Medicare and Medicaid to provide outpatient drugs to covered entities at significantly reduced prices.

The last three years have placed extraordinary strains on hospitals, and for many smaller hospitals, the 340B program is critical to survival. Without 340B program savings, many smaller hospitals might need to lay off workers and shutter needed programs, such as those that help to detect and treat patients suffering from chronic conditions. Consequently, underserved populations will need to travel further away to receive care.

For smaller hospitals and those serving rural communities, many of which do not operate their own outpatient pharmacy, the only avenue for patients to access drugs covered under the 340B program is through a contract pharmacy arrangement. However, there are several disadvantages to relying solely on contract pharmacies to meet patients’ specialty medication needs. With a robust in-house specialty pharmacy program utilizing 340B savings, financially challenged hospitals can recover funds quickly while reducing the administrative burden on staff and improving patient outcomes. Could more small and rural hospitals fully utilize the 340B drug pricing program?

Perceived Barriers

Some of the perceived barriers for smaller hospitals to open an outpatient pharmacy and recognize the most benefits out of 340B include:

·       The belief that starting their own specialty pharmacy is too expensive, risky or complicated considering the perceived restrictions.

·       The myth that there is a threshold of pharmacy spend required.

·       The myth that specialty pharmacy programs require a large patient base of specialties such as oncology.

Disadvantagesof Contract Pharmacy Reliance

Contract pharmacy restrictions that manufacturers placed on 340B hospitals have limited eligible health systems from reinvesting 340B funding into improving their services and communities. These increasing manufacturer restrictions on specialty medications make owning a specialty pharmacy a critical step toward maximizing savings. When dispensed in-house, the hospital saves money on fees it otherwise would pay to the contracted pharmacies. Community-based health systems, especially those serving rural communities, find it difficult to implement integrated specialty pharmacy programs due to payer or PBM restrictions, drug distribution limitations and absence of the necessary resources and infrastructure.

This results in specialty prescriptions being filled by external pharmacies that are unaffiliated with the health system leading to care fragmentation and inconvenience and frustration for patients. Health systems that do not provide retail or specialty pharmacy services also miss the opportunity to achieve healthy financial margins that are often associated with dispensing specialty medications. The improved margin opportunity for health systems who choose to own their own pharmacy is significant and can allow more hospitals to keep their doors open, while providing an expanded service to patients in a familiar care setting.

Overcoming Barriers with Data

When determining if opening an in-house specialty pharmacy is a good fit, there are many unknowns. It is necessary to understand the landscape of the community, the behaviors and demographics of the patient populations and have a long-range view for the needs of the health system and community. Anticipating industry and pharmaceutical pipeline trends provides an additional advantage in projecting the long-term growth and viability of the program. Executives should have access to their organization’s data and the resources needed to analyze the benefit of this investment. Many hospitals and health systems turn to a specialty pharmacy services company with expertise in these assessments for detailed analyses.

Opening an in-house specialty pharmacy helps hospitals provide superior clinical care, increase revenue and better support vulnerable communities. Incorporating specialty pharmacy services and utilizing the 340B program within the hospital’s clinical programs greatly enhances the patientand provider experience -- delivering an integrated program that drives revenue and reduces the total cost of care.

To read the full published article in Pharmacy Angle, click here.