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Legal challenge to Arkansas drug discount law continues

LA Johnson
An Arkansas law ensuring discounts on prescription drugs for clinics and pharmacies serving rural and low-income populations is currently being challenged in court.

A federal appeals court is expected to rule in the coming days on a challenge to an Arkansas law regarding discounts for prescription drugs.

Act 1103 requires drug makers to comply with a federal program ensuring discounts for clinics and pharmacies serving rural and low-income communities. Arkansas became the first state in the nation to pass a law of that type in 2021.
Seth Blomeley is communications and policy director for Community Health Centers of Arkansas. He says pharmaceutical companies have sought to undermine the law since its inception.

“The pharmaceutical manufacturers, over the last few years, have enacted a number of unilateral restrictions on the program and have really caused issues for hospitals and community health centers,” he said.

Community Health Centers of Arkansas and the state Insurance Department are arguing in favor of keeping the Arkansas law in place. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America are seeking to overturn Arkansas’ law.

Drug makers argue Arkansas’ law is preempted by the federal program, known as 340B, which was passed by Congress roughly 30 years ago. Blomeley says the courts have already found that’s not the case.

“It’s not conflicting with anything the federal 340B statute sets out… [it] doesn’t even talk about these contractual pharmacy arrangements. The U.S. District Court agree with that, and so pharma has a high burden to prove otherwise before the appeals court,” he said.

Blomeley says drug makers have put limits on where those discounted prescriptions can be sold, creating an access problem for the roughly 300,000 Arkansans who are served by community health centers each year.

“You need to be able to have that convenience, otherwise a lot of people might just give up,” Blomeley said. “It creates all sorts of issues.”

A federal judge upheld the law late last year. The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case last week and could issue a ruling in the coming days.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.