In person. Face to face. Call it what you like. Masked and ready to network!
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to go back to an in-person event and see your friends and colleagues from over the years. It’s like we didn’t skip a beat. While we had over 1,800 people registered, 400 of them were virtual. Considering the last winter conference was in February 2020, that number is phenomenal, and turnout for community health centers/grantees was the highest of all time, while hospital policies on travel and staffing resource demands limited their usual presence.
When I say we celebrated, it was celebrating being back together. The conference content itself did not have much to “celebrate.” While the 340B program approaches its 30th birthday this year, we face challenges head on with little help from Congress, the administration or judicial fronts to swing the pendulum back in our favor. Perhaps some feel we are in a dark swamp of despair.
What did the conference tell us?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead said it best. We can meet in person. In fact, we need to meet in person. It’s that energy that drives our conversations and provides us the time to connect, share ideas and make a movement! The energy and enthusiasm for change was evident. The breakout sessions suggested a new interest in legislative protections for 340B, even from organizations that have traditionally steered clear from legislation and touted the traditional party-line of “stay the course and let the courts determine next steps”. Marching into an even-numbered year, where it’s midterm election-year politics versus policy, the conversation was different this time.
This conference made us remember why the safety net is so important and brought us back to center: the patients we serve deserve health equity. They need 340B more than ever. Our healthcare workers are tired from two years of battling a global pandemic. Our healthcare systems are taxed from reimbursement shortfalls and escalating costs. Bringing the focus back to the original intent of the program, and those it serves, should be paramount in the efforts to fix what has been broken, as many can attest that 340B works. Many speakers, like the Black AIDS Institute, shared success stories — of breaking barriers to care, managing population health, and addressing social determinants of health. While an outsider might ask, “what does that have to do with 340B?”, it has everything to do with why this program was put into place.
By design, 340B was created to help our safety net stretch scarce federal resources to provide care — the right care. When certain manufacturers (14 as of today) deflect how providers can participate, they are placing unwarranted burdens, increasing the cost of care and, in short, breaking the law.
Our federal partners were available virtually to provide insights. This year, we heard two collective messages — from the Office of Special Health Initiatives (OSHI) director and Rear Admiral Krista Pedley, who expressed her admiration for 340B and her confidence in the Office of Pharmacy Affairs’ acting director, Michelle Herzog, who urged covered entities to continue to submit price discrepancies to their office for investigation. While there was no direct discussion about the manufacturers’ assault on 340B, the officials expressed disagreement with some of the federal courts regarding recent opinions in the cases and said they continue to weigh their options. They emphasized using the government contractor, Apexus, to aid with reporting to help the federal government understand the impact to 340B participants. Here is the link to their tools, including this one, which you can use to report manufacturer 340B price discrepancies.
Apexus has updated the Medicaid tool that they launched a few years ago. Check it out if you have state-specific needs that address Medicaid Managed Care plans now. Apexus has many new training opportunities in store for buyers, community health centers, manufacturers, and more. We like to highlight these as they become available in our New and Noteworthy e-newsletter publication for our customers.
As at previous conferences, it was nearly impossible to attend each and every track, and the exhibit hall was buzzing with “nice to see you”, fist bumps and even hugs! The wearable ribbons were the talk – from “2020- don’t recommend it” to “340B Veteran.” Whether your focus was operations, policy, or clinical, there was no shortage of topics to fit the various roles covered entities must fulfill to operationalize the 340B program, from inventory purchases, compliance and audit to patient care programs. There are little nuggets we took away from attending these sessions that have our wheels turning.
Our demo for Sentry’s Claims Manager Plus attracted attendees who manage Medicaid and Medicare Part B modifiers, curious to hear how our combined companies, Sentry and Craneware, offer cutting-edge technology with our combined solutions for value cycle experts.
My favorites are the “lessons from the field” discussions, which allow vendors from all sectors of 340B to share their insights. Personally, I like to determine the topic du jour based on what our industry is facing. This year, without a doubt, COVID, PBMs, and manufacturer challenges won. I presented an overview on how supporting covered entities through a “customer experience,” similar to what healthcare providers call “patient experience,” is hands down the only way we are going to get through these challenging times.
The general sessions were filled with speculation on drug pricing reform (it’s coming), legislative predictions (not this year), and insights on the direction healthcare is heading from a top medical economist (change is slow, so don’t expect anything fast). There were also many other breakouts available for attendees to engage in special interest groups.
I was happy to co-lead our 340B Pharmacist Moms Group for our first in-person get-together. On top of smaller meetings, there were pre- and post-conference sponsored events, like our Sentry Customer Appreciation event, which drew a wonderful gathering of customers, partners, and invited guests to briefly share our gratitude and spend time reconnecting (and I will throw in, some dancing and grazing).
Now the real work begins: taking the nuggets, the ideas, and the relationships and building upon them to create greatness.
Sentry looks forward to engaging with you all after the event and keeping the conversation going with our Feb. 16 webinar to tackle the manufacturer mayhem. We hope to connect again in person, face to face, or of course—virtually.