For millions of Americans newly diagnosed with cancer, life turns upside down. If their diagnosis isn’t enough, many must worry about how to pay for expensive, life-saving treatment.
As an oncologist at Rush and Decatur Memorial Hospitals, I see firsthand that not being able to pay for good medical care to fight cancer is as frightening as getting diagnosed in the first place. Luckily, many of my cancer patients get the help they need from a federal program they’ve never heard of: the 340B drug discount program.
Congress created the 340B drug discount program in 1992 with bipartisan support to allow hospitals that serve large proportions of low-income patients to receive discounted medications from drug companies. The program benefits countless lives.
The 340B drug discount program frees me to do what I love: practice medicine and care for my patients. Whenever I prescribe treatments and medicine I do so based on what is best for the patient, loyal to the oath I took when I became a physician.
I am reminded of a patient we will call Rebecca. An uninsured 50-year-old, Rebecca was diagnosed with Stage III inflammatory breast cancer. She was immediately prescribed three effective, but expensive medications. She simply could not afford to pay for the treatment out of pocket. Initially, a church foundation helped cover her bills, but Rebecca’s need for cancer treatment outlasted the foundation’s ability to pay for it. Thanks to 340B, we were able to continue her treatment without worrying about where the money was going to come from. Life-saving treatments are great, but only when they get to the patients who need them.
While we and other safety-net hospitals are only one-third of all U.S. hospitals, together we provide nearly two thirds of all uncompensated hospital care delivered across the country, according to the American Hospital Association. We serve everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. That’s thanks in large part to 340B savings that help fund our oncology and related services in Rush and Decatur Memorial Hospitals.
While each situation is unique, I see patients and their families go through scenarios like Rebecca’s almost every day. For our hospitals, the 340B program is a critical piece of how we care for our most vulnerable patients. We need it now more than ever.
Jaime Ayon, MD is a Medical Oncologist at Rush Memorial Hospital in Rushville and Decatur Memorial Hospital in Greensburg.