The U.S. political climate today doesn’t often provide opportunities for bipartisan solutions, particularly when it comes to healthcare. However, the “Restoring Access to Medication Act (RAMA) of 2017” (H.R. 394 and S. 85) proposes a change to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would enhance access to care by restoring a benefit to consumers that they lost when the ACA first went into effect. This quick and simple fix has bipartisan and bicameral support, and it has achieved something very rare in the health policy debate: agreement.
The legislation was introduced by Sens. Pat RobertsPat RobertsDems mock House GOP over lack of women in healthcare meeting Perdue vows to be chief salesman for US agriculture abroad GOP senator apologizes for mammogram joke MORE (R-Kan.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenate Dems to Trump: Work with us on ObamaCare Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight NRA launches M Supreme Court ad MORE (D-N.D.), and Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Ron KindRon KindNew bill does hard job of injecting capital into needy communities House GOP campaign arm targets Democrats over ObamaCare anniversary Here's how Congress can get people to live healthy lifestyles MORE (D-Wis.). The result of the legislation would restore the ability of 50 million Americans to use their tax-preferred flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) to purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
More than 240 million Americans use OTC medicines every year, and these remedies are a trusted and affordable way to get well, stay well, and feel well. OTC medicines provide Americans with accessible, affordable, and trusted solutions, empowering them to address their everyday healthcare needs. More than 90 percent of Americans prefer to treat with OTC medicines before seeing a healthcare provider and nearly 90 percent of physicians and pharmacists recommend patients self-treat with OTC medicines before seeking physician care.
Furthermore, self-care with OTC medicines helps reduce unnecessary doctor visits, lost time from work, and provides a significant cost advantage for consumers. According to one economic study, OTC medicines save consumers and the healthcare system $102 billion each year, and for every dollar spent on OTC medications in the U.S., the healthcare system saves $6 to $7.
In 2011, a provision of the ACA removed OTC medicine eligibility from tax-preferred accounts, and since that time the provision limited consumer access to OTC and greatly reduced the economic, social, and personal health benefits associated with these medicines. The ACA provision was essentially a tax on OTC medicines, so Jenkins is right when she says the RAMA legislation will “repeal this tax so families and individuals can better manage their own healthcare expenses.”
Restoring eligibility of cost-effective OTC medicines under FSAs and HSAs will help the millions of consumers who use these accounts to take greater ownership of their own health through responsible self-care.
From head to toe, OTC medicines are the trusted first line of treatment for millions of Americans, but the current provision also states that consumers must obtain a written prescription for OTCs in order to get those costs reimbursed through their FSAs and HSAs. In other words, consumers must visit their healthcare professional just to purchase medicines that treat common ailments, such as allergies, coughs, colds, heartburn, or topical pain, using their FSAs and HSAs.
Since the provision took effect, CHPA has been leading a broad national coalition – the Health Choices Coalition (HCC) – advocating for restoration of this important consumer benefit. The HCC includes consumer advocates, policymakers, physicians, dentists, retailers, pharmacies, pharmacists, insurers, drug manufacturers and various employers – all who understand the valuable role of OTC medicines in our nation’s healthcare system.
Given the critical role of OTCs, they should be treated as eligible expenses under tax-preferred accounts. In fact, more than 100 common OTC ingredients that started out as prescriptions are now available over-the-counter – such as certain allergy and heartburn medications as well as therapies for smoking cessation.
OTCs are first-class medicines that receive second-class treatment under today’s Federal tax law. We urge Congress to pass RAMA and restore their constituents’ ability to use their FSAs and HSAs for OTC medicines that enhance health and wellness for their families and themselves.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.