340B Health

Provider Faces of 340B

Sherrie Williams, MD, MHS, Cleveland, Ohio

Sherrie Williams, MD, Medical Staff President of The MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio, always knew she wanted to be a physician.

“If you read my high school yearbook, it says under my picture I was going to be a physician,” she says. “I knew at an early age I wanted to help people and be of service to the community.” Williams credits her mother, a nurse, for influencing her choice of career. “I watched her suffer with asthma; maybe that's why I became a pulmonary specialist,” she says.

MetroHealth’s main campus is not far from downtown Cleveland, an up and coming area that attracts college educated young adults. But on balance Cleveland's residential neighborhoods face serious challenges. More than one out of three Clevelanders is poor. More than one out of five is jobless, and more than one out of five below age 65 does not have health insurance. Clevelanders suffer disproportionately from chronic, treatable health problems associated with poverty, Williams notes. The city is 50 percent African-American and its health disparities are starkest among blacks.

“If you come to MetroHealth and have no insurance whatsoever, we are able to offer you charity care in part because pharmaceuticals cost us less through 340B,” she says. Having 340B pricing also allows MetroHealth to provide all city and county children in foster care with free routine and sick care. In 2014, the system served more than 1,600 foster children. 340B savings also make it possible for MetroHealth to provide primary and preventive healthcare to students at more than 14 Cleveland public schools. “We do these things because they're the right thing to do and because the community needs them,” says Williams. “

340B pricing has a tangible positive impact on patients in Williams’ area of specialization. Not too long ago, short-acting rescue inhalers containing albuterol were inexpensive generic drugs. These inhalers used ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, however, and were phased out. The medicine in the replacement products is the same; all that changed is the gas in the canister.

Unfortunately for patients, the shift meant the inhalers became classified as brand-name products resulting in a significant price increase. “What used to be an affordable $5 generic rescue inhaler suddenly zoomed up to $100 or more,” Williams explains. “Many people can no longer afford these vital medications that in some instances could be life-saving.” At MetroHealth’s pharmacy, 340B pricing is provided on trademarked inhalers. A brand-name rescue inhaler for asthma or COPD will cost about $9, as compared to $88 at a commercial pharmacy without 340B pricing. “Providing these inhalers at an affordable price not only saves lives but also improves the quality of life for our most vulnerable,” Williams says.