Michael D. Shaw: Protect WV rural hospitals from ruinous policies

Hospitals are an indispensable resource for the people they serve. That fact has particular relevance for West Virginia’s rural hospitals, which have scarce resources, problems retaining staff, difficulties hiring works, and low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

These hospitals need Rep. David McKinley’s support, since he is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which can prevent these hospitals from closing.

These hospitals are in crisis mode, where 31 such organizations in West Virginia struggle daily to help the communities they represent. These same hospitals depend on the 340B drug pricing program, which provides uninsured and low-income patients with discounted medications.

Without the 340B program, in which drug companies have a guaranteed pipeline to millions of consumers for their products, rural hospitals cannot continue to give patients medications at an affordable price.

It is wrong for these drug companies to profit so much, while they try to terminate a program that helps so many for so few dollars. Faced with an unhealthy, aging and uninsured population, too, living in a rural area now constitutes a health risk.

340B is, therefore, essential to nearly 60 million Americans who live in rural areas or struggle to find acceptable care. The program has an insignificant effect on the pharmaceutical industry, given the subsidies the government provides for drug manufacturers.

That means 340B is as much a life-saving resource for rural hospitals as it is a source for dispensing life-saving medication to patients.

Recognize, too, that rural hospitals do everything — everything — to help the least among us, including offering transportation to ensure people receive care. That trip is a waste of time without 340B, because the little money these residents have is just enough to pay for the medication they need to be or stay healthy. The pharmacies that participate in this program recognize this fact, which is why they seek to help these hospitals live.

To abandon 340B is to, then, abandon millions of our bravest Americans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 5.2 million veterans live in rural areas, where more than half of them receive health care through the VA.

Among these rural citizens, up to 435,000 of these men and women are veterans of deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan. And 54 percent of rural veterans earn less than $36,000 per year.

We must not burden these hospitals with another challenge, since rural areas have a higher rate (by 9 percent) of diabetes and much greater risk (by 39 percent) of heart disease than nonrural communities. Even worse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of death from opioid-related overdoses is 45 percent higher within these underserved parts of the country.

From a shortage of doctors to physical isolation between the facilities they run and the people they serve, rural hospitals fight a daily battle to keep themselves alive so they keep their patients alive.

And yet, rural hospitals continue to close. With 80 such hospitals no longer in business, and 40 percent operating in the red, 340B is the only thing preventing more hospitals from locking their doors and ceasing to serve their respective communities.

Too many jobs are on the line, too many towns throughout West Virginia are on the precipice of fiscal collapse and too many people are on the edge of physical catastrophe for 340B to end.

This program makes sense because it saves us considerably more dollars and cents.

We need this program, now more than ever.

Michael D. Shaw is a columnist, biochemist and protege of the late Willard Libby, the 1960 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He writes about a variety of subjects including wellness, health care and business leadership.

Funerals for Saturday, December 14, 2019

Akers, Trela - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Cochran, Jacob - 3 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Cosby-Matthews, Hattie - Noon, First Baptist Church of Charleston, Charleston.

DeMarino, Jane - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Gunther, Jewell - 1 p.m., Calvary Baptist Church, Chapmanville.

Hall, Betty - 1 p.m., St. Andrew United Methodist Church, St. Albans.

Holbrook, Linda - 1 p.m., St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Pinch.

Johnson Jr., Delbert - 11 a.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

King, Edna - Noon, St. Christopher Episcopal Church, Charleston.

Kiser, Kenneth - 6 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Lawrence, Mamie - 2 p.m., O’Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

McCutcheon, Alice - 1 p.m., Old Greenbrier Baptist Church, Alderson.

Mills, Melinda - 5 p.m., New Baptist Church, Huntington.

Rannenberg III, Thomas - 2 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Ray, Sandra - 1 p.m., Crooked Creek Church of Christ.

Roach, James - 1 p.m., First Baptist Church, Ravenswood.

Tyler, Gloria - Noon, Grace Bible Church, Charleston.

Ulbrich, Sandra - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Williams, Laura - 2 p.m., Stockert-Paletti Funeral Home, Flatwoods.

Wood, Ruby - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.