Retail News Breaks
Bill to restore FSA use for OTCs backed by NCPA, CHPA
July 18th, 2011
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The National Community Pharmacists Association and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association have endorsed a bipartisan bill to enable consumers to buy over-the-counter medications via flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) without needing a prescription.
NCPA and CHPA noted that the House and Senate legislation — the Restoring Access to Medication Act (H.R. 2529 and S. 1368), introduced by Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R., Kan.) and Shelley Berkley (D., Nev.) — would ensure that consumers have convenient access to affordable, effective medicines and can purchase them with pretax dollars, helping to control their health care costs.
"I have had patients complain about not being able to utilize their accounts for these products as they have in the past," NCPA vice president Brian Caswell, owner of Wolkar Drug in Baxter Springs, Kan., said in a statement. "I support this legislation because it will allow my patients to use their tax-preferred accounts on the products they need at our independent pharmacy — without a prescription."
An estimated 35 million Americans rely on voluntary contributions of pretax dollars to FSAs and HSAs for their basic health care needs.
NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer B. Douglas Hoey commented, "We want to thank Sens. Nelson and Roberts and Reps. Jenkins and Berkley for their leadership on this issue. We urge Congress to pass these companion bills as quickly as possible."
Before January, OTC medicines were eligible for reimbursement under FSAs and other tax-preferred savings accounts. But the 2010 health care reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, required consumers to get a prescription from their doctor for OTC drugs to be eligible for FSA reimbursement.
Eric Hamik, RPh, of U Save Pharmacy in Kearney, Neb., noted that the process is cumbersome for both patients and physicians. "My patients shouldn't have to call a doctor every time they want to purchase an OTC product under their tax preferred account," Hamik explained. "I've also had several physicians tell me they are tiring of having to write prescriptions for OTC products. I am very supportive of this legislation, which returns the control of the transaction back to the patient where it belongs."
According to a recent CHPA-sponsored survey of consumers and primary care doctors, physicians estimated on average that 10% or more of visits to their offices were unnecessary and could have been avoided by self-management of health care, including the use of OTC medicines for minor ailments. And the associated cost-savings study found that $5.2 billion could be saved by consumers and taxpayers annually if only half of the unnecessary visits were avoided by greater self-management of health care, including the use of OTCs, CHPA said.
"OTC medicines are often a first line of defense against ailments and injuries and should be treated as medically reimbursable health care therapies, just like prescription medicines," CHPA president and CEO Scott Melville said in a statement. "We urge Congress to reinstate a benefit that so many American families use to make medical expenses more affordable.
"Removing OTC medicines from FSA eligibility contradicts the long standing commitment of both parties to give hard-working Americans better access to affordable solutions for staying healthy," added Melville.
In supporting the legislation, NCPA and CHPA are part of a broad coalition including physicians, pharmacies, insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers, among others. The bill also has been endorsed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
"Over-the-counter medicines empower consumers to practice smart self-care, efficiently and cost-effectively," Melville commented. "It's part of our health system that works well, and effective health reform should build on what's working."
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