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FSA restrictions first piece of ObamaCare to be challenged

Patients’ Freedom to Choose Act would restore complete OTC access

WASHINGTON — Recent restrictions imposed on flexible spending accounts appear to be the first piece of ObamaCare to be challenged by the new Congress.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., on Thursday respectively introduced The Patients’ Freedom to Choose Act, a bill that would repeal two provisions in the Obama healthcare law that limit a patient’s choice in how to use consumer-directed health savings plans, to the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Under the health law, the federal government is stifling patients’ flexibility and freedom to use health benefit accounts that have helped make care more affordable for tens of millions Americans,” Hutchison stated. “Our bill strikes these arbitrary limitations and puts patients back in charge of how and when they’ll use [health savings account] and [flexible spending account] benefits.”

The move was met with wide support from retail pharmacy associations. “The legislation introduced by Sen. Hutchison and Rep. Paulsen is a critical step to ensure that the 19 million American households who have FSAs regain their ability to purchase [over-the-counter] medicines with pre-tax dollars,” stated Scott Melville, president and CEO of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. “With the country’s annual cough, cold and flu season upon us, now is the time for Congress to support this bill and reduce the cost of health care for millions of consumers.”

Retail associations, including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute, added their support of the legislation.

On Jan. 1, a provision in the new healthcare legislation took effect, prohibiting individuals from using funds from either HSAs or FSAs to purchase OTC medications without a prescription. In addition, starting in 2013, the Obama healthcare law will institute a $2,500 federal cap for all FSA contributions. More than 80% of all large employers that offer an FSA to their employees include a limit that is more than the $2,500 threshold, Hutchison noted.

A recent survey found that more than 90% of Americans preferred to seek treatment with OTCs before seeing a healthcare provider, the CHPA stated. In addition, nearly 90% of the physicians surveyed recommended that patients use OTC medicines before seeing their physicians. Under the new restriction, however, an overwhelming majority of physicians surveyed believed there will be an increased burden on medical professionals.

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