Free Markets, Free People
I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, but events overcame the ability to do so until now (Okay, I forgot about it).
What you’ll see with this particular provision is just stupid law. Granted, the entire law in which this provision is found is, in my opinion, stupid, but this takes the cake. But it also appears to be a politically motivated provision designed to make Health Savings Accounts (HSA) unattractive. I can’t see any other reason for it. George Scoville has written extensively on it. Here’s what he’s found:
Starting Jan. 1, 2011, you will no longer be able to use your Health Savings Account (HSA) to pay for over the counter (OTC) medications at a pharmacy, supermarket or other retail store without a prescription.
Examples of OTC items that will require a prescription for HSA debit card purchases as of Jan. 1, 2011:
- Acid controllers
- Acne medicine
- Aids for indigestion
- Allergy and sinus medicine
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Baby rash ointment
- Cold and flu medicine
- Eye drops
- Feminine anti-fungal or anti-itch products
- Hemorrhoid treatment
- Laxatives or stool softeners
- Lice treatments
- Motion sickness medicines
- Nasal sprays or drops
- Ointments for cuts, burns or rashes
- Pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Sleep aids
- Stomach remedies
Yes, that’s right, suddenly many things that Americans buy without thinking twice about are made prescription items if you want to use your HSA to pay for them. And those would all be legitimate items for purchase with an HSA account. So ObamaCare introduces a hassle factor. What a great way to get people to drop their HSA for something easier and more hassle free – like mandated insurance, no?
But as usual, the law of unintended consequences drops by to say “hello” (the hassle factor is intended, this, probably not although you’d be hard pressed to figure out why they didn’t think of it):
Doctors at East Louisville Pediatrics PSC in Kentucky say they’re writing as many as 50 prescriptions a day for drugs such as Bayer AG’s aspirin and Pfizer Inc.’s Advil that don’t need a physician’s nod to be purchased off pharmacy shelves.
The trend, triggered by the 2010 health-care law, affects more than 20 million Americans with flexible spending or health savings accounts that let them use pretax dollars for medical needs. A U.S. rule that took effect Jan. 1 taxes purchases of over-the-counter drugs except for insulin unless the patient has a prescription, generating $5 billion through 2019, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
Doctors, pharmacists, insurers and drug companies say while it may generate money to help expand coverage for the uninsured, the measure is driving up medical costs and creating unnecessary work. They want it repealed, expecting demand to surge at year’s end, when people have to use up balances in the accounts.
“It’s a complete waste of time,” said Conrad Flick, one of five physicians at Family Medical Associates of Raleigh in North Carolina, in a telephone interview. In many cases, he said, he’ll talk with patients by phone to determine why they want the drug before he feels comfortable writing the prescription. “So I’m spending an extra half-hour or hour of my day doing things that I don’t get paid for,” he said.
Administrative costs from the new provision are growing, said Diane Myers, administrator for the East Louisville practice that has eight doctors and two nurse practitioners who write prescriptions. “I bet we’re spending a minimum of 10 hours a week on these things,”she said.
10 hours a week that could be spent doing important things or, in this case, having a life. 10 hours a week lost writing prescriptions for aspirin, for heaven sake.
This is an “improvement”? This saves money? This is a provision that helps bend the cost curve down?
In an alternate universe maybe.
Your government at work.