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Published on August 08, 2016

Guest Column: Rising prescription drug prices raise concerns

By Tom VanOsdol, as published in the Florida Times-Union

The health care industry is undergoing dramatic transformation as we shift from fee-for-service reimbursement to a fee-for-value payment system.

This will promote the value and outcome of the health care services we deliver.

We’re focused on providing the best care for the people we serve, measuring the efficiency of our healthcare delivery and striving to improve outcomes at a lower cost.

At St. Vincent’s HealthCare and Ascension, the nation’s leading nonprofit health care system, we have embraced this transformation because it’s the right thing to do.


Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle that we see to providing better care at a lower cost is the astronomical price increases of prescription drugs.

Sadly, prescription drug spending continues to spiral out of control.

Last year, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, about $457 billion was spent on prescription drugs, accounting for 16.7 percent of overall personal healthcare services.

Prescription medication prices are increasing faster than any other aspect of health care. At St. Vincent’s HealthCare, we experienced an increase of $2,235,752 in our drug spending last year. That means $2,235,752 less that we can invest in patient and community care.

Unfortunately, while this negative trend is occurring, a bipartisan program that Congress created more than two decades ago to help needy patients gain better access to prescription medicines is at risk.

The 340B Drug Pricing Program requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations at much reduced prices so that vulnerable people are able to afford the best care possible.

And while 340B drugs now amount to only 2 percent of all medicines purchased in the U.S., this program makes an enormous impact when it comes to making drug therapy more affordable for our patients.

Hospital systems across the country — particularly those in disadvantaged, underserved and rural communities — rely significantly on the 340B program to better serve our communities.

While the 340B program has shown to benefit patients, there is talk of significantly scaling back the program, which would leave our most vulnerable citizens with less access to the medication and quality health care they desperately need.

In order to transform health care, with drug prices rising rapidly, programs like 340B have to exist.


Our mission is to provide compassionate, personalized care to all with special attention to people living in poverty and those who are most vulnerable.

Reducing the benefits of the program will compromise our ability to provide low-cost or no-cost medications to our patients who need it most.

We must bring attention to the important issue of rising drug prices and stress the importance of the 340B Drug Pricing Program for our patients who are struggling to afford their prescription medications.

By paying less for high-priced prescription drugs, our providers also have more resources to invest in community programs for our patients.

St. Vincent’s HealthCare calls on Congress to continue looking at the issue of aggressive prescription drug price spikes and to preserve the integrity of the 340B program so we can continue providing our community with access to life-saving affordable medications.

We support policies to advance sustainable and fair drug prices and encourage innovation of new therapies.

We encourage drug manufacturers, health care providers, legislators and regulators to work together to ensure medications are available and affordable for all who need them as we navigate the evolving landscape of value-based payments.

■ Tom VanOsdol is system chief operating officer of St. Vincent’s HealthCare.

■ It is a part of Ascension, the nation’s leading nonprofit health care system.

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