AUSTIN (KXAN) - Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services (ATCEMS) expects to spend between $74,000 and $160,000 more this coming fiscal year for medicines it has manufactured locally due to national drug shortages.
"Many times the medication is not available for weeks or sometimes months," said James Shamard, chief of operations for ATCEMS.
The city-run service has contracted with compounding pharmacies to produce medicines like Fentanyl, a pain medication and Versed which helps control seizures. Both are regularly unavailable except through this creative means. But making the medicines in smaller batches locally means paying more.
- For Fentanyl last year, EMS paid a $1.22 per unit. This year, unable to acquire enough from national sources, the local cost to produce it is $4.50 - an increase of 300 percent.
- For Versed in 2012 it cost $2.12. Now, it's up to $7 a unit - a 250 percent increase.
And some drugs in short supply are not easily compounded, like atropine, which speeds up a low heart rate. A vial that used to cost $2.78 now costs EMS $34. That's a 900 percent increase.
"About medications, it's not even about best price, it's about availability," Shamard said pointing out his agency, like most in America, adheres to a national standard of patient care.
He said that standard means having medicines that are proven to improve patient outcomes regularly stocked in every ambulance that hits local roads.
The ultimate cost is left in the hands of the budget makers.
"Moneys that might be available for other things are having to be channeled both at the department level and the city level to offset the cost of these medications that are frequently not available," Shamard said.
Next fiscal year for example, ATCEMS wants to spend $593,101 to double the size of a three-person paramedic team which goes out into the community to help limit calls or ER visits from chronic ambulance users.
The Community Health Paramedic Program also provides at-home visits for former patients who survived cardiac or other emergency health issues. The goal is to help them find resources to avoid needing emergency care in the future.
A budget forecast recently presented to the city's Public Safety Commission show ATCEMS foresees 5.6 percent higher overall costs in fiscal year 2014. That is due to factors including: higher fuel and maintenance costs, staff health insurance increases and civil service implementation costs.
By recent fiscal year (FY), here is a glance at ATCEMS combined budget for medications and medical supplies:
- FY 2013 $1,984,534
- FY 2012 $1,800,000
- FY 2011 $1,565,410
The 2013 dollar figure represents about 3.5% of ATCEMS' overall annual budget of $55.6 million.
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