Drug distribution being eliminated by Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation

TUBA CITY-Throughout the past several years, health care costs in the United States have increased at a rate several times the national inflation rate for all goods and services. Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation (TCRHCC), as a P.L. 93-638 self-determination entity, depends on funding from the U.S. Federal Government Indian Health Service (IHS), and third party sources such as AHCCCS and employer insurance plans.

Starting Feb. 19, TCRHCC, in a cost-cutting measure to best provide services across all medical disciplines, announced the elimination of free dispensation of most over-the-counter (OTC) medications. OTC medications for emergency purposes will remain available in limited quantities, but sufficient enough for only a 24-hour period.

TCRHCC currently spends $300,000 per year on OTC medications (direct cost) and $650,000 on pharmacy dispensing costs (indirect cost). The decision follows the same move made by other Navajo IHS Service Units such as Shiprock, N.M, Fort Defiance, Kayenta and Chinle during the past several years. Gallup Service Unit now offers no over-the-counter medications.

Over-the-counter medications are not funded by the Federal Government/IHS, and they are not generally reimbursable by other types of third party coverage. In 2006, approximately 30 percent of all prescriptions at TCRHCC were for over-the-counter medications-approximately 87,000 prescriptions filled in 2006.

Under the new OTC formulary, TCRHCC expects to create a cash savings of $80,000 from OTC drugs and another $250,000 in indirect costs, which ultimately will enhance patient services and improve other hospital needs.

In a six month process, TCRHCC medical staff and pharmacists reviewed all over-the-counter medications currently available, and created a list of essential drugs needed for medical purposes to be provided to patients. The list of drugs no longer to be provided was determined based upon medical necessity and availability at retail establishments within the community.

Consideration was given to the distances to other cities and retail centers, given the limited retail availability in Tuba City. An ongoing process is in place to evaluate the need to add or remove medications from the list of over-the-counter medications available to TCRHCC patients.

TCRHCC is making every effort to communicate with local retail establishments regarding the need to carry additional over-the-counter medications. The list of over-the-counter medications that will still be available at TCRHCC is limited. Please check with your provider as to which OTC drugs are available for dispensing or visit the TCRHCC website for the complete listing.

An education process about over-the-counter medication changes is underway at the chapter and community levels, and through local media outlets. A listing of available and non-available OTC drugs will be available upon request at TCRHCC, local chapters and other community locations.

"It is a tough decision to cut the availability of over the counter medications," said Joseph Engelken, TCRHCC chief executive officer. "However, the money saved will be distributed to other vital areas of the medical center."

Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation is a community focused non-profit, health care organization offering a 73-bed acute care referral hospital and a broad range of outpatient care services. It serves a patient population of approximately 75,000 Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Paiute, in a 4,400 square mile area. Its mission is to provide accessible, quality, culturally sensitive health care.

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