Hospitals and other health care providers say it is an essential tool in ensuring access to care, and to prescription drugs, for their low-income patients.

Pharmaceutical companies say it has expanded beyond its original purpose and is being used by hospitals to pad their profits.

Members of Congress are divided:  some are supportive and some are skeptical.

The section 340B program that requires drug companies to provide discounts to selected hospitals and other providers that serve large numbers of low-income patients has been the subject of controversy in recent years.  During that time, the administration has generally sided with hospitals and maintained the program.

That support was tempered recently when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed a 28 percent cut in Medicare payments to hospitals for drugs provided to low-income patients through the 340B program.  Hospital industry groups responded by suing the federal government and will have their day in court later this month.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it essential to their ability to serve their communities.  NAUH conveyed this view to CMS recently in response to its proposed regulation calling for reduced 340B payments to hospitals.  See that letter here.

What are the issues?  Why do hospitals and other providers consider 340B so essential to their well-being while pharmaceutical companies and now, CMS, view the program with increasing skepticism?

Kaiser Health News has taken a look at these and other 340B questions.  Read its story here.