By Rob Recklaus
California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) wants all family-planning clinics and their patients to have access to 340B-discounted drugs.
May 5, 2009 - U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently introduced legislation that would extend the 340B drug discount program to all family planning clinics, regardless of whether they receive federal funding as required by current law.
Supporters of the legislation say it would bolster the 340B program and give thousands of additional patients access to low-cost drugs at a time when many Americans struggle to pay for medicines.
Whether the bill will go anywhere remains to be seen. Historically, anti-abortion lawmakers have fought efforts to lower the cost of prescriptions at family planning clinics. This was the case earlier this year, when several lawmakers voiced opposition to a provision included in the Fiscal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act to extend nominal pricing to family planning clinics.
Millions of women rely on clinics
Boxer’s bill, “The Affordable Care for Women Act,” or S. 310, would amend Section 340B of the Public Health Service Act to make any public or non-profit family planning organization eligible for discounted drugs. Although a majority of family planning centers qualify for 340B discounted drugs today, hundreds of clinics are barred from the program because they don’t receive federal funding under the Public Health Service Act.
Current law limits participation in the 340B program to certain categories of federal grantees and sub-grantees, to federally qualified health center “look-alikes” as defined by the Social Security Act, and to qualified disproportionate-share hospitals.
“For millions of women across the country, women’s health and family planning centers are one of their only options for affordable care,” Boxer noted when introducing her bill. “At a time when families and social service providers are struggling in this terrible economy, this bill will make prescription drugs more affordable to women’s health and family planning centers and the women they serve.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a leading provider of women’s reproductive healthcare with 880 health centers serving 3 million patients throughout the United States, is leading the advocacy efforts for The Affordable Care for Women Act.
"The 340B program serves as an important foundation for the healthcare safety net,” said Tait Sye, Planned Parenthood spokesman. “Extending 340B program eligibility will maximize the efforts of safety-net providers to expand access to affordable care for a growing patient population, at no cost to the federal government."
The legislation has been referred to Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Committee has not scheduled any action on the legislation for the immediate future.There were more than 66 million U.S. women of reproductive age in 2006. Of those, 17.5 million – 26 percent – were in need of publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies because of their income level, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization funded in part by Planned Parenthood. This represented an increase of 6 percent over the decade.