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City helps hospital enroll in discount Rx program

CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs committed to continued care of the uninsured and indigent earlier this week, a pledge required for its enrollment in a federal drug discount program.

A resolution the Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted memorialized the commitment. The item was added to the agenda at the start of the board's Tuesday night business meeting. An email the hospital sent the city Jan. 3 requested the addition.

The pledge to the city is a requirement for enrollment in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's 340B Program, according to the resolution. The program requires drug manufacturers participating in Medicaid to provide outpatient prescription drugs to participating hospitals at reduced prices. Eligibility is conditioned on serving low-income populations.

The qualifying proportion of low-income patients relative to a health care facility's total intake is 11.75%, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration.

"This past year we had over $13 million in uncompensated care, up from $10 million the year before," Dr. Doug Ross, the hospital's president and chief medical officer, told the board. "This fiscal year I can tell you we are at an even higher pace. These types of programs are very beneficial for helping us continue to care for these patients as we are called to do as part of our ministry. Certainly, this program does not offset all of that cost, but certainly, every little bit helps."

Ross said the share of indigent and uninsured patients the hospital treated in previous years wasn't comfortably above the threshold to warrant applying for the program, which started in the 1990s.

"There's quite a bit of work that needs to be done for this program," he said. "You have to meet that threshold every year. We were so close to that threshold. We didn't want to fall back and have done all that work for nothing. We are now seeing a trend that we're consistently above that threshold."

Legislation filed in the U.S. House and Senate seeks to suspend accepting new participants into the program for two years and requiring current ones to provide information that includes the number of patients receiving discounted drugs and the cost of providing the drugs.

The two bills, introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., would impose a two-year moratorium on enrolling new hospitals, giving regulators time to rewrite eligibility rules. The lawmakers, both of whom are physicians, have said protections are needed to ensure discounts are being used to help disadvantaged patients and not to increase the profitability of providers' drug administration programs.

by David Showers | January 12, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.