A new war on drugs 

I like my current flexible spending account, but I can't keep it. That's a result of the new health care bill.

Buried within the thousands of pages of the bill is a provision which reduces the benefits from health savings accounts as workers across the nation are now discovering. Previously-covered over-the-counter drugs will now only be covered when they are prescribed. This is the first tangible effect of the legislation that many people will see and will no doubt be fuel for the anti-healthcare fire as November’s election nears.The many local and national federal employees who had gotten used to the benefits offered by fsafeds will need to recalibrate their expected costs in the coming year. Many employees of private employees will also be affected. According to the Federal Government’s FSA website:

Beginning January 1, 2011, currently eligible over-the-counter (OTC) products that are medicines or drugs (e.g., acne treatments, allergy and cold medicines, antacids, etc.) will not be eligible for reimbursement from your Health Care FSA – unless, you have a prescription for that item written by your physician.

The only exception is insulin – which will not require a prescription from January 1, 2011 forward. Other currently eligible OTC items that are not medicines or drugs, such as bandages and nasal strips, will not require a prescription.

While Wilford Brimley will no doubt be pleased that the 219 Democrats in Congress who passed the legislation think that his diabetes medication should be tax free, sufferers of maladies from allergies to the common cold have been shut out by the 111th congress and told to call their doctor in the morning where two aspirin will now be more expensive.

Depending on a person’s insurance plan, it may be cheaper to spend time going to the doctor and getting a prescription to help fight off the region’s notorious allergens and then making the trip to a pharmacy to purchase either a brand-name or generic medicine. The alternative would be walking to the local drugstore and simply buying a pack of OTC allergy medication. (Given the laws governing the purchasing of anything containing pseodoephedrine, however, this may not necessarily be any faster). Thus, in yet another unintended consequence of rushed legislation, the bill may actually increase wait times to see doctors. Since people would only pay the cost of their insurance co-pay for a prescription medicine compared to the full cost for an OTC drug, the total cost to the system may rise as well.

The arbitrariness of the exclusions makes clear that they were included not for medical or debt-relief reasons but through a delicate calculus of political pull and marketability. One can imagine the fierce horse trading sessions where politicians decide they can let the insulin benefit stay for the cost of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but that antacids are just too expensive to let by.

The overall purpose of this new tax (i.e. the elimination of a handy tax-deduction, if you like) was almost certainly to help the CBO’s “budget math” work out to a politically palatable result.

Unfortunately, FSA holders are now set to start paying the costs elsewhere.

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
Pin It

More by Staff Report

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation