The Senate this past week heard legislation that would reverse the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandating a prescription on the sale of an over-the-counter medicine being paid for through a flexible spending account. All those in the retail pharmacy industry are staunch supporters of the legislation.
And that's because retail pharmacy gets it. It's not about the sales — has anyone ever heard of a consumer who decided not to purchase a pain reliever or cough syrup because it wasn't an eligible FSA purchase without a trip to their doctor? No. That person doesn't exist — they'll buy the same amount of OTCs to cure what's ailing them with an FSA as without an FSA. No, it's about the value inherent within OTCs. It's about tapping into that value to the benefit of both consumers and overall health care.
Almost 1-in-6 Americans participate in an FSA, so the savings impact to the consumer will be real.
Supporting OTCs as a first line of treatment makes sense for healthcare providers, too. OTCs provide $102 billion in savings to our nation's healthcare system every year — $3 of every $4 by way of reducing doctor visits and $1 of every $4 by way of dispensing fewer medicines. And nearly one-third of the $102 billion in annual savings is for consumers treating cough-cold and flu symptoms.
For every $1 spent on OTC medicines, the U.S healthcare system saves as much as $7.
And that's the real win. Because reduced healthcare costs for payers means lower healthcare premiums, or at least premiums that don't increase year over year at such a sharp rate.