Testimonies focus on benefits of 340B Drug Program

Various testimonies were provided in a hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce examining how covered entities are using the 340B Drug Pricing Program. The hearing discussed various issues, including how covered entities (1) track and use savings from the 340B Program; (2) use contract pharmacy arrangements; (3) use child sites; and (4) interact with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). In addition, the hearing focused on the requirements different types of covered entities must meet in order to receive reduced prices through the 340B Program.

Neither the 340B statute nor HRSA guidance, however, explain how 340B entities must use savings from the program. There is no requirement that the discounted 340B price be passed on to uninsured patients who seek treatment at 340B entities. As a result, the 340B entity will acquire the drug at a discounted price, but the uninsured patient may pay the full list price for the drug. While some 340B entities pass savings on to uninsured patients, it has been reported that some use savings from the 340B Program to pay for the operations of the covered entity, such as marketing. The House Committee convened the hearing to examine current practices and usage of savings generated by the 340B Program.

Background

Established by Congress, the 340B Drug Pricing Program mandates that drug manufacturers provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations, also known as covered entities, at reduced prices to remain eligible for reimbursements through entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Covered entities are eligible to receive discounts on outpatient prescription drugs from participating manufacturers and report saving between25 and 50 percent of the average wholesale price for covered outpatient drugs.

Covered entities do not receive discounts on inpatient drugs under the 340B Program. Covered entities can realize substantial savings on outpatient drugs through 340B price discounts and generate 340B revenue by selling 340B drugs at a higher price than the discounted price at which the covered entity obtained the drug.

Testimonies

Shannon A. Banna, Director of Finance and System Controller, at Northside Hospital, Inc., noted that the 340B Program savings allow the hospital to provide drugs to some of its most vulnerable patients and expand its charity care and community programs. In addition, the hospital met 340B Program requirements, with only a single instance of inadvertent diversion of less than $7 in an HRSA audit. Northside is an independent Georgia non-profit corporation that owns or operates an extensive network of health care facilities in Georgia, including three acute care hospitals located across the northern metropolitan Atlanta area with a total of 926 operational beds and more than 150 ancillary and physician service sites located across the 28 county Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Michael Gifford, President and Chief Executive Officer, of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, a non-profit providing health care services and support for HIV patients, stated that the savings generated by the 340B Program allowed entities to purchase certain medications at a price lower than what these medications are normally purchased for. In turn, these savings that are generated off the reimbursement for the medication purchased using 340B pricing are then reinvested into programs and services that directly benefit the individuals the covered entity serves.

Ronald A. Paulus, MD, President and CEO, of Mission Health Systems, Inc., testified that six Mission Health hospitals qualify to participate in the 340B Program based on either disproportionate share hospital (DSH) or critical access hospital status. The hospitals use of 340B Program savings directly reflects the intent and design of the 340B Program, going to support high quality, safety net services and programs many of which are otherwise unavailable in the region and would be unavailable absent the 340B program. He noted that funds provided by 340B program savings were integral to the hospital’s work.

Charles B. Reuland, Executive Vice President and COO, of The Johns Hopkins Hospital stated that participation in the 340B Program allowed the hospital to provide care and service to vulnerable individuals and families. As a safety net hospital, Johns Hopkins uses its 340B savings to respond to emerging crises and to continue serving the most vulnerable patients in Baltimore. Reuland noted that since 2009, Johns Hopkins has offered a charity program designed to improve access to effective, compassionate, evidence-based primary and specialty care to uninsured and underinsured patients from the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the hospital.

Sue Veer, President and CEO of Carolina Health Centers, Inc., a federally qualified health center that serves as the primary care medical home for 26,952 patients in the west central area of South Carolina, noted that using 2016 as a sample, 142,045 or 43.1 percent of the 329,679 prescriptions dispensed at the system’s two pharmacies were filled with 340B purchased inventory for eligible patients. The system’s total 340B savings for 2016—calculated as the net margin after the sale of the drug—was $561,620. She further noted that the savings enabled the health center to provide deeply discounted pharmacy services to those patients eligible for the income-based sliding fee program, offer medication therapy management to promote clinical and cost effective care, and assist patients with qualifying for manufacturer Patient Assistance Programs.

House committee takes interest in ‘NotPetya’ malware attack fallout

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are concerned that a malware attack from late June 2017, known as “Petya” or “NotPetya,” may have lingering effects on Merck & Co, Inc. The leaders sent letters to Merck’s CEO and HHS Secretary Price expressing this concern and requesting additional information about the attack and the effects on the company.

NotPetya

The malware infection began on June 27, 2017, and spread across the world, infecting businesses from a variety of sectors. At the time of the attack, the extent of Merck’s vulnerability was not precisely known, although an employee reported that they were told to stop working and some computers appeared to be wiped and that all U.S. offices were affected by the attack. The committee letters referred to information provided in Merck’s second-quarter 2017 financial outlook, which stated that packing operations were mostly restored, formulation operations were partially restored, and active pharmaceutical ingredient operations were partially restored but bulk product was not yet being produced.

Patient risk

The committee’s interest in the matter stemmed from concern that patients may have been negatively impacted by manufacturing disruption. Although evidence of such risk was not present, the committee pointed to an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that certain formulations of Merck’s Hepatitis B vaccine would not be available. The committee requested that Merck provide a formal briefing to the committee on the initial infection and Merck’s steps to recover and resume manufacturing by October 4, 2017. The committee also requested an HHS briefing on the agency’s steps to understand and respond to the situation as well as plans for addressing drug shortages or other consequences stemming from cyberattacks.

Over-the-counter drug monograph reform the topic of subcommittee hearing

Under proposed legislation, “Over-the-Counter Monograph Safety, Innovation, and Reform Act of 2017,” the over-the-counter (OTC) monograph process would be modernized to streamline rule-making and cut down on FDA resources, while being funded through the establishment of a user fee program. In a hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on health on September 13, 2017 regarding the discussion draft, witnesses from the industry and the FDA voiced their support, as well as real world examples and reasoning, for the proposed changes.

Monographs and current process

Unless the FDA has approved a new drug application, the only way an OTC drug can be marketed is if it conforms to a monograph—a standard set of specifications established by the FDA for each therapeutic category of product—and is thus considered generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). A monograph is created through a three-step public rulemaking process via the Federal Register and a public comment period. It requires the convening of advisory review panels, publishing of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) with a comment period, review by the FDA, publishing a tentative final monograph (TFM), and later finalization of the monograph and subsequent amendments and updates. The FDA has around 88 rulemakings in 26 therapeutic categories covering over 100,000 OTC drug products, and there are 800 active ingredients for over 1,400 uses that the FDA oversees. There are no user fees associated with monograph products currently, and a small staff oversees the OTC program as well as attending to other current mandates. The rulemaking process spans many years and the industry waits for a decade or more for finalized monographs, for example, the ANPRM for external analgesic products was published in 1979 and the monograph has still not been finalized.

Legislation

Since 2014, the FDA has examined monograph reform and the possible creation of a user fee program. The discussion draft includes proposes the following changes: (1) authorizing of the OTC Monograph User Fee Program; transition of OTC monographs from a rulemaking process to an administrative order procedures; (2) expediting administrative order procedures for OTC monograph drugs that pose an imminent hazard to public health or are associated with serious adverse events; (3) providing for a procedure to account for minor changes; (4) providing for a two-year exclusivity period for certain OTC innovative changes; and (5) clarifying how sunscreens would be reviewed.

Stakeholder witnesses

 Witnesses from across the industry presented statements before the subcommittee. They touched not only on the problems with the current process and their support of the proposals, but also their support in the industry supplementing the government’s efforts with the user fee program.

  • Bridgette L. Jones, MD, FAAP, representing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), raised an example of how long it takes to get a monograph changed. Over a decade ago, in response to a petition to the FDA, an FDA advisory committee voted unanimously “that it was no longer appropriate for adult data on cough and cold products to be extrapolated to establish efficacy of the drugs in children under 12 . . . [and that] cough and cold drugs not be used in children under 6 years of age.” Currently, not even draft changes have been made to the monograph. She also noted that it is appropriate that the monograph be amended to provide dosing instructions for children under two years of age and that “if the monograph process worked better, surely this change would have happened years ago.”
  • Scott Melville, President and CEO of Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), notes the value that OTC medicines bring to the health of Americans and to the U.S. health care system and stresses that it’s important that the oversight process “is one that is efficient, transparent, and accommodating to innovation.” He also notes that his industry “is willing to supplement government resources with a modest user fee program.”
  • Kirsten Moore, Project Director, Health Care Products, The Pew Charitable Trusts, gave examples of the “unnecessary delay incorporated into a multi-step rulemaking system, which compromises FDA’s ability to respond swiftly to address new safety information and protect consumers” and urged Congress to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
  • Michael Werner, Partner, Holland & Knight, on behalf of the Public Access to SunScreens (PASS) Coalition, and Gil Roth, President, Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association, also spoke in support of the OTC legislation.
  • Janet Woodcock, MD, Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) with the FDA confirmed the troubles with the current process and the present staffing levels raised by the other stakeholders. Her agency, as well as the other organizations, offered to continue to work with Congress to make the OTC reforms a reality.

Medical device stakeholders give House feedback on 4 separate bills

A variety of stakeholders in the medical device industry testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee with respect to a number of bills related to devices, including the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act (H.R.1652), the Medical Device Servicing Safety and Accountability Act (H.R. 2118), the Fostering Innovation in Medical Imaging Act of 2017 (H.R. 2009), and a bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the process for inspections of device establishments and for granting export certifications (H.R. 1736), which would enhance the authorization Medical Device User Fee Amendments (MDUFA IV). While stakeholders took opposing viewpoints with respect to some bills, those that spoke to MDUFA IV, including Director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health Jeffrey Shuren, all expressed their support.

Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act

The Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aid Act would permit the sale of OTC hearing aids for use in adults with mild to moderate hearing impairments. Speaking on behalf of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), Dr. Thomas Powers of Powers Consulting, LLC supported the sales of OTC hearing aids for mild hearing impairments, but opposed the provision of such hearing aids for moderate use. Hearing impairment, particularly moderate and severe impairments, are complex and, in Powers’ opinion require consultation and fitting with hearing health professionals; in addition, he cited to a study indicating that hearing impaired individuals were more likely to be satisfied and wear hearing aids fitted by a professional.

Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery and Geriatric Medicine at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and in the Departments of Epidemiology and Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on the other hand, opined that OTC sales would make hearing aids more accessible and affordable to the hearing-impaired population; currently, less than 28 percent of the nearly 38 million Americans with significant hearing loss have access to the devices. He argued that alleged safety concerns about the sale of OTC hearing aids to individuals with moderate hearing loss were raised by parties looking to preserve the status quo, which offers little incentive for innovation of new market entry, with, “98 percent of the world’s hearing aid marketplace being controlled by six companies.” He likened the risks of OTC hearing aids to the risk of OTC reading glasses or aspirin.

Medical Device Servicing Safety and Accountability Act

H.R. 2118 would require establishments that service medical devices to register with the FDA, establish a complaint-handling system, and report adverse events to the agency. Joe Robinson, Senior Vice President of Health Systems Solutions for Philips North America, offered his support of the bill on behalf of the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA). He noted that improper servicing of medical devices by non-manufacturer entities can injure patients via direct or indirect bodily harm, and can also cause problems for manufacturers down the road. For example, the manufacturer may not be aware of adverse events or may not be familiar with the chain of events that ultimately led to an adverse event, may experience difficulty upgrading parts that have been altered by a third party, or may have its device certification voided. MITA believes that registration and complaint handling is an important first step to improve service and safety.

Robert J. Kerwin, General Counsel for the International Association of Medical Equipment Remarketers and Services, Inc. (IAMERS), adamantly opposed the bill. He argued that the legislation provided a solution for a problem that does not exist, noting that, of the 177 public comments submitted to the FDA in response to its request for comments, including comments on service regulation, nearly none of them made negative comments about third-party device services, and that The Joint Commission, in its comment, stated that it “has no knowledge of any statistically significant level of safety problems resulting from the activities of any kind of maintenance/service provider.” Kerwin contrasted MITA’s opinion that increased regulation is necessary to prevent improper servicing with its members’ decisions to subcontract with IAMERS members to perform repair work. He further emphasized that the language of the bill would classify any type of repair work performed as a complaint, increasing the burden on third-party services, and hurt rural and regional hospitals that rely heavily on third-party servicers.

Fostering Innovation in Medical Imaging Act 

H.R. 2009 would “provide clarity with respect to the regulation of diagnostic imaging devices intended for use with contrast agents.” Currently, the FDA will not approve imaging devices or enhancements for use with approved contrast agents, if the agents are not specifically labeled for that use. MITA approved of the bill’s provision of “a clear regulatory pathway” to promote innovation.

H.R. 1736

Patricia Shrader, Vice President for Global Regulatory Affairs at Medtronic, Inc., spoke on behalf of AdvaMed, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, to offer its support of the bill, which would establish a risk-based inspection schedule based on a medical device facility’s risk profile. Shrader opined that this would allow the FDA to consider a facility’s compliance history and other related factors in scheduling inspections, as opposed to aligning the frequency of inspections with the classification of the devices a facility manufactures. She applauded the bill’s plan to improve FDA and facility communications prior to, during, and after inspections, noting that facilities would no longer need to wonder from day-to-day, during the course of an ongoing inspection, whether an inspector would be able to travel to the facility. The bill would also require the FDA to provide non-binding feedback on proposed remediation plans, so that facilities are not left wondering what changes they should make. Finally, the bill would require the FDA to implement a process to address refused international device certifications—certificates to foreign governments (CFGs)—when those refusals result from lack of FDA confirmation, rather than issues with the devices.