The Senate will turn to 340B, the drug discount program that fueled a lobbying battle in the House.

The Senate this week is turning its focus to 340B, the drug discount program that has fueled a fierce Capitol Hill lobbying battle in the U.S. House of Representatives for months.

Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called a hearing for Thursday, saying he will focus on gathering information from stakeholders. “Congress created this program to help some of the most vulnerable people in our country afford their medications to treat HIV, hepatitis C, diabetes or cancer,” Alexander said in the hearing notice. “I am looking forward to hearing from many of those involved in how the program is working, and what steps, if any, the federal government should take to strengthen the program and ensure patients are receiving benefits.”

The 340B reform movement that has gripped House Republicans has been slower to pick up in the Senate, but Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have both introduced legislation this year that would put a moratorium on new registrations of 340B facilities and step up reporting requirements.

The Senate also has powerful 340B allies, including a bipartisan group of senators that includes John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who urged their leadership last December to impose a moratorium by year-end on the scheduled Medicare reimbursement cuts for 340B hospitals. Congress did not do so, and the cuts went into effect Jan. 1. A hospital lawsuit led by the American Hospital Association is on appeal.

Last fall, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee held hearings that led to the release of a report that states Congress did not clarify the program’s intent or set parameters. The January report recommended greater oversight and reporting requirements for providers who qualify for the program.

Hearings are expected soon on a packet of bills that peels off legislation by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) that would establish user fees and new reporting measures, among other policies.

Susannah Luthi covers health policy and politics in Congress for Modern Healthcare. Most recently, Luthi covered health reform and the Affordable Care Act exchanges for Inside Health Policy. She returned to journalism from a stint abroad exporting vanilla in Polynesia. She has a bachelor’s degree in Classics and journalism from Hillsdale College in Michigan and a master’s in professional writing from the University of Southern California.

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