As a founding member of the Arizona Human Rights Fund, which has now morphed into Equality Arizona, I have always worked on the issues that have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ community.
HIV/AIDS has been and continues to be the major health issue we face. The HIV/AIDS patient community has made tremendous strides in the past few decades, both in the ways we treat and prevent the disease, as well as how we discuss the disease in our national discourse.
Arizona has many wonderful organizations dedicated to helping the community navigate this disease and many outstanding entities that help with ongoing treatment. These groups and entities have helped countless lives and are great community partners. They are truly putting the patient first, and the last thing we should do is create roadblocks for them in any way.
Sadly though, it appears that is what is happening.
Many of these safety net providers, clinics and health centers rely on the 340b program for funding. These funds are used in many ways, with the biggest benefit being providing prescription drugs to the needy at little to no cost.
Drug manufacturers agreed to discount their medications to these 340b covered entities many decades ago, and the agreement has helped those at-risk, low-income and underserved patients in Arizona.
But like many government programs, cracks in the program have started to emerge, and the program as a whole is now in danger. Instead of small contract pharmacies helping serve these communities, large corporations and national chains are now using the 340b program to get these massive discounts on prescription medicines without necessarily passing that savings onto the consumer who needs it.
This is not the way the program was initially created, nor is it necessarily helping patients. The result is that we are now at the point in the 340b program where there are state lawsuits, corporate stand-offs and other issues that are putting the program in jeopardy and leaving patients out in the cold.
The solution should be simple.
We need to help those needy patients by keeping the 340b program. There is no better program to help the HIV/AIDS community. We simply cannot burden them with high prescription drug costs at a time when they are fighting for their health. We also need to correct the program, so that the cost savings are going to patients, and not lining the pockets of large national chains.
I know there is a motivation in Congress to save the 340b program, and I’m glad it has their attention. I just hope they do it in the right way, so we are not back dealing with this problem again in the years to come.
Phoenix resident Bill McDonald was a founding member of the Arizona Human Rights Fund. Learn more at equalityarizona.org.