“We’ve been trying to do this for years!” Jenna Kroll, Anchorage Health Center Manager, said excitedly when asked about re-securing 340B pricing for Alaska Planned Parenthood health centers.
The federally administered 340B program, first created in 1992, requires drug companies to provide pharmaceuticals to eligible health care organizations at greatly discounted prices.
Planned Parenthood health centers across the nation lost access to 340B pricing with the changes the Trump Administration enacted to the Title X program, most notably the “gag rule” which prohibits referrals for abortion care.
While 340B was taken away with one sweeping blow, getting it back has been an uphill battle, contingent on various state and local restrictions.
The loss has meant a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars – some medications increasing in cost by upwards of 500% without the 340B coverage, said Nika Graci, Federal Programs Administrator for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.
“When we lost Title X we also lost our entry point into 340B drug pricing. This has had a huge impact on our acquisition cost for popular and important medications like long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). We have seen that LARCs have been a very popular item for our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to having to pay a higher acquisition cost and their popularity, this has made our contraceptive expenses in Alaska extraordinarily high,” explained PPGNHI Area Services Director Susanne Mauney.
So how did Planned Parenthood health centers in Alaska come to obtain this victory with 340B pricing for medications?
“COVID-19 created hardships that required businesses and organizations to work in unison,” said Kroll. “It’s about building relationships and business as an ecosystem.”
She explained, “We’ve been working closely with the state [of Alaska] to get syphilis patients treated,” referring to a statewide initiative to fight and contain a syphilis outbreak that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planned Parenthood health centers - particularly Anchorage - were key to the state of Alaska in fighting the disease. “The state would call us and we would make room to see the patients quickly, sometimes on the same day. We did everything we could to meet the state’s objectives in fighting the syphilis outbreak and getting everyone the best care.”
Kroll explained further, “As part of the treatment, Bicillin was administered, but without 340B pricing, it was really expensive, so we had to rely on the state to obtain the 340B pricing for the drug and get it from them. We worked to build that relationship with the state, get those patients on the schedule as quickly as possible and get them treated. We were able to partner with the state of Alaska, and we proved to them that we put patients first.”
When Kroll brought up the issue of 340B pricing to Alaskan officials again, this time they were sympathetic. “We brought up that without 340B pricing, we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we have in the past. They didn’t want to see us lose that capacity – it's not in their best interests either,” she said.
So, “we applied under the state’s grant for 340B pricing. This was finalized and approved. It will be in effect for all Alaskan health centers,” said Nika Graci.
Mauney summarized, “Thanks in large part to the tenacity of our Anchorage health center manager Jenna Kroll, we have been able to secure 340B pricing for next year.”
“It should go into effect in early 2021, but we don’t have a set date yet,” confirmed Graci.
To support Planned Parenthood health centers like those in Alaska as they innovate and weather the challenges of both pandemic and hostile political administrations, please donate here.