For more than 376,000 Connecticut residents each year, their medical needs are provided by a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), a community health center which gives patients top-level primary, dental and behavioral health care at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit. This includes First Choice Health Centers in East Hartford, Manchester and Vernon, which serves more than 21,000 people annually, many of whom otherwise cannot afford regular access to medical care.
This is the consistent, preventive care that keeps people healthy and productive. We and our health center colleagues throughout the state serve as family doctors and dentists (in addition to many other specialties) for everyone who comes through our doors, regardless of ability to pay. They become our patients for many years, and together we develop strong relationships rooted in trust and specific understanding of their needs.
Fortunately, we have benefited for years from federal funding to aid our mission, as well as federal legislation that makes resources such as prescription medications available to our centers and patients at deep discounts, without any cost to the federal or state government. The program was created in 1992 and is known as the 340B Drug Discount Program; it requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient prescription medication to eligible health care organizations and covered entities at significantly reduced prices.
This program benefits our patients by taking some of the sting out of what can be costly prescription medications, and allows entities such as ours to stretch our limited resources as far as we can to reach more eligible patients and get them the right prescriptions they need to remain healthy.
Distressingly, Congress is putting basic access to these critically important medications in serious jeopardy by threatening to eliminate or significantly curtail the 340B program. At a time when the need for reliable, comprehensive community health services is greater than ever and more and more patients look to us for help (68 percent growth in patients in the past five years), this could have a devastating impact on those who can afford it the least.
At First Choice this would mean a loss of roughly $400,000, and would force us to either once again try and find new, creative ways to cover these costs, or to reduce access to affordable prescription medications. We treat every patient’s health as a priority – for years this has been our mission to be carried out on a daily basis, and has made the communities we serve healthier. A reduction in this program only serves to reduce access to affordable medications at a time when prescription drug pricing is at an all- time high.
Community health centers deliver value by providing cost-effective medical care in Connecticut to more than 10 percent of our state’s population; the numbers make it easy to understand. For First Choice to provide comprehensive medical care (up to 30 different services) for one patient over the period of one year costs an average of $662 per patient. Now compare that to the cost of just one emergency room visit, which on-average is $1,400, and is a frequent choice for those who cannot access affordable health care in the community. Health centers work closely with every patient. We operate with incredible efficiency and we provide the exact care that patients need at the most affordable cost.
Losing vital federal legislative support for the 340B Drug Discount Program would give us one more unnecessary obstacle to overcome. Again, this program does not cost the federal nor state government any money – drug manufacturers simply sell the medications to eligible health centers at a substantial savings, and those savings are then reinvested by the centers into additional programs and services. At First Choice, in addition to providing reduced-cost medications, we provide care coordination, a fitness center, yoga classes, nutrition services, and cooking classes at no cost to our patients, all thanks to the benefits of the 340B Drug Discount Program.
Congress needs to do the right thing and protect this valuable program. As the ones who are on the front lines every day of keeping thousands in our communities healthy, we know it is an investment that pays off time and again.
Eugene Market is the CEO of First Choice Health Centers, which operates as a Federally Qualified Health Center in East Hartford, Manchester and Vernon.