Sept. 23, 2022 – Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center (SMRMC) had big plans for how it could reach more patients in need in the communities that it serves. But that all changed when drug companies started restricting access to 340B drug pricing program discounts to SMRMC and other safety-net hospitals.
“We had plans of extending our services to expand mental health offerings, expand patient assistance and account forgiveness, and expand preventative screening and medication management programs to reduce hospital readmissions,” says Tiffany Poole, the hospital’s director of pharmacy. But those preparations have been in limbo since a growing number of drug companies started unlawfully limiting 340B discounts for drugs dispensed through hospitals’ partnerships with community and specialty pharmacy partnerships.
Tiffany is our newest Faces of 340B video profile. She shares her story about how much her hospital’s patient care mission relies on 340B savings through pharmacy partnerships – and how patient access to health care has suffered since the 340B restrictions went into effect.
“They’re Not Able to Afford These Increased Prices”
SMRMC is a 160-bed disproportionate share hospital that serves a significant rural population in southwest Mississippi. Many of the hospital’s patients are uninsured and living with low incomes. Patients often travel an hour or more to receive the comprehensive care the hospital provides with the help of 340B savings. Without the hospital, these patients would need to travel even farther to receive key health services such as cardiovascular care.
340B savings also help the hospital cover the $14.6 million per year of uncompensated care it provides to patients who cannot pay their hospital bills. This adds to the heartbreak for Tiffany and her colleagues when they see how the drug company 340B restrictions are affecting those neighbors in their communities.
“We provide care that spans from the womb to hospice,” Tiffany says. “We open our doors to our patients, and we know them by name.”
SMRMC uses 340B savings to lower out-of-pocket prices on medications for patients with financial need. Since the drug company restrictions went into effect, many of Tiffany’s patients have seen their out-of-pocket expenses for these medications increase by hundreds of dollars. She has seen patients come to the pharmacy who were prescribed EpiPens for their entire family but who ration the medication by only filling a prescription for one member of that family. In other cases, patients are going home without any crucial medications.
“We have patients that came in from their jobs. They were told their price at the register. They looked at us, they looked down at their wallet and just dropped their head,” Tiffany says. “They said they would be back to get it later on. They didn’t have enough money at that time. But we know they are not coming back.”
Dire Consequences for Patients
Tiffany explains that patients going without prescribed drugs, rationing medications, or delaying the care they receive can have dire consequences for patient health outcomes. As drug companies continue to fight in the courts against the federal government’s attempts to require the restoration of 340B discounts to safety-net hospitals, she is worried that the continued 340B restrictions mean unnecessary hospital readmissions will increase.
She also is concerned that SMRMC will not have the resources to provide the same level of comprehensive services it does today. This would lead to patients being forced to travel farther to seek the health care they need.
“We want to be able to provide the very best of care to our patients right here at home,” Tiffany says.
Check out Tiffany’s video profile on our Faces of 340B website.