AAFP Renews Efforts to Repeal OTC Provision in Health Care Reform Law

April 23, 2013 12:10 am News Staff

The AAFP has renewed efforts to eliminate a provision in the health care reform law that requires a physician's prescription to use funds from tax-preferred health accounts to purchase OTC medications.

[Woman in pharmacy comparing over the counter meds]

The Academy and other members of the broad-based Health Choices Coalition sent a letter(91 KB PDF) to the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as the ranking member of the committee, on April 15. The letter calls for the repeal of the provision, saying that the measure "has resulted in unintended consequences to both physicians and patients and further complicates the tax code."

"There is no medical justification for this requirement, and, as a nation, we want to encourage Americans to make smart, efficient health care choices," says the coalition letter.

This means allowing the use of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts for OTC medicine purchases without requiring a prescription, says the coalition, which represents physicians, dentists, consumers, retailers, manufacturers, pharmacies, pharmacists, small businesses and employers. The Health Choices Coalition sent a nearly identical letter to Congress last year urging repeal of the provision, which went into effect in 2011.

"Consumers depend on OTC medicines as a first line of defense for their families' health care needs," the coalition letter says. "OTC medicines provide Americans with a safe, effective, affordable, convenient and accessible means to address their health care needs."

The coalition also says OTC medications "save consumers billions of dollars annually through reducing unnecessary doctors' visits, increased productivity at work and the cost advantages of using OTC medicines as a frontline treatment."

This year's coalition letter, like last year's letter, cites a study(www.yourhealthathand.org) that found "OTC medicines contribute a total of $102 billion each year in savings and cost avoidance in the health care system. In other words, for every $1 spent on OTC medicines, the health care system reaps $6-$7 in savings. The availability of OTC medicines off-the-shelf and without a prescription provides medicines for an estimated 60 million people who would otherwise not seek treatment."

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., reintroduced legislation last month to repeal the OTC provision. The legislation, known as the Family Health Care Flexibility Act, also would repeal a provision in the health care reform law that places a $2,500 yearly cap on contributions made to individual FSAs. That provision went into effect this year.

Johanns and Paulsen introduced similar legislation last year.