Now more than ever, we need to examine all approaches to connecting our vulnerable children, families and seniors living in Oregon’s rural communities with healthcare. We need to be acutely aware of all the options and support services available to ensure these neighbors have access to critical, affordable care. Places like Coos County deserve healthcare as affordable and as high quality as any other county in our state.
It’s why today it is concerning to learn that prescription drug companies – a $450 billion-dollar industry with multi-million-dollar advertising running on network television and near endless campaign money to lobby Congress – want to scrap a program, known as 340B, that provides discounted drugs to rural communities, helping to bridge the divide and lower barriers to life-saving prescription drugs.
As the CEO of Waterfall Clinic, one of many federally qualified healthcare clinics in Oregon that relies on 340B to provide vital medications to vulnerable families and seniors in our community, I witness first-hand what a difference the discounts provided under the program make.
So, it’s a shame to learn about the pharmaceutical industry trying to cut the 340B program, a lifeline to providers like us, simply because the drug makers believe that discounts aren’t necessary for our community any longer.
Let’s pull back the layers here. First of all, 46 million Americans live in rural areas, spread out across 72% of the land in this country. That’s 14% of the population of the entire U.S., spread out across nearly three quarters of the land within our borders. That fact alone speaks to the challenges in delivering high quality, affordable healthcare to so many of our fellow Americans.
Second, these areas lose tens of thousands of residents each year, and the demographics continue to age upward. In fact, rural Americans, on average, are older than their counterparts in non-rural areas, and that reality also speaks to the need for them to have more direct and affordable access to healthcare services and providers.
Finally, economic opportunities are not nearly as present. Median income in rural communities is nearly $10,000 less annually than media household incomes in metro areas.
So, when you stop and consider the challenges in rural America with access to healthcare, the greater needs of quality healthcare for these citizens, and the lack of economic growth in many of these regions, then we should embrace government programs that enable access to life-saving care and medications, right?
Drug company lobbyists are actively waging a campaign effort to convince Congress to change the 340B program, and shield drug companies from having to voluntarily provide discounts on drugs that vulnerable populations in rural America need.
The 340B program merely requires participants to provide discounts on their drugs. In exchange, the drug companies get access to millions of Medicaid beneficiaries that receive care from rural providers that act as a crucial safety net in their communities.
I urge our Senators Wyden and Merkley along with Representative Walden to stand strong in their support for the 340B program, and once again fight for our communities. Access to quality affordable healthcare and prescription medication is critical for our community and it needs to be protected.
CEO of Waterfall Community Health Center