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Hard to make cents out of pending FSA overhaul

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — No matter how you slice it, the flexible spending account changes that are part of the overall Affordable Care Act aren’t doing a whole lot by way of saving healthcare dollars, at least not for patients. Indeed, about the only benefactors are those folks who have to make dollars and cents out of what might become the first casualty of the Obamacare healthcare package — those who have to explain how the administration plans to pay for this package, you know, by not raising taxes.

(THE NEWS: Coalition urges Congress to repeal pending FSA change, calls policy 'unwarranted'. For the full story, click here)

Except these FSA changes do constitute a tax of sorts — indeed, it’s been characterized as the cough-cold tax of 2010 by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association — because Americans now will have to spend much more out-of-pocket in order to realize the same savings as they did last year.

According to the Nielsen Group’s Homescan Consumer Facts 2009 report (covering the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26, 2009), Americans spent $8.06 per trip when purchasing cough-cold remedies (which includes treatments for allergies). If they used pre-tax dollars to pay for those medicines, they saved $1.12. Over the course of a year, the average household spends $39.42 on cough-cold and/or allergy medicines. Those who used FSAs for those purchases saved $5.50.

According to the Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 2010, the average co-pay for a doctor’s office visit is $22 for primary care and $31 for specialty physicians. Requiring a prescription for these over-the-counter medicines now will mean those suffering from a cold, for example, would have to spend $22 to save $1.12. Those suffering from such chronic conditions as allergies would have to spend $9 more to save that same $1.12.

And that just doesn’t make cents.

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