July 14, 2010 - The U.S. House voted unanimously today to re-enable children's hospitals to buy nearly 400 high-priced orphan drugs with the 340B discount. Orphan drugs are used to treat rare conditions affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.
The bill, H.R. 5712, now moves to the Senate, where its future is uncertain.
The ban on the reduced-price purchases was included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) signed by President Obama in March. It also applies to the free-standing cancer hospitals and three categories of rural hospitals that ACA added to the 340B program. Children's hospitals had been able to buy orphan drugs at the 340B discount before ACA's enactment because they were already part of the 340B program.
Language to lift the ban for children's hospitals had previously been included in a controversial tax and jobs bill that cleared the House but not the Senate. The new bill focuses narrowly on technical corrections to veterans', senior citizens' and children's health programs.
The failed "tax extenders" bill also included language to create a limited inpatient drug discount program called 340B-1 that would apply to only a third of hospitals that participate in 340B and only for patients lacking health insurance. That amendment was not included in H.R. 5712 and remains in legislative limbo.
Senate leaders, meanwhile, have said in recent days that it might be weeks before the chamber takes up a war spending bill that includes an amendment clarifying that non-retail sales of injectable, infusible and inhalable drugs will continue to be counted toward the drugs' average manufacturer price and, as such, will be subject to 340B discounts.