HEALTH

New IRS guidance allows continued use of FSA/HRA debit cards to pay for OTCs

BY Rob Eder

WASHINGTON — Though most might associate the Internal Revenue Service with the Grinch, the IRS came through with a last-minute Christmas present for retailers stung by changes in the tax code related to consumers’ use of flexible spending and health reimbursement accounts to purchase approved OTC products.

The new guidance, issued Dec. 23, enables consumers to continue using FSA and HRA debit cards to pay for prescribed OTC products. The move comes as particularly good news to pharmacy retailers, most of which — more than 90% of the industry — had invested millions of dollars to convert POS systems in recent years to accept the special FSA and HRA debit cards.

In line with the Affordable Care Act, as of Jan. 1, 2011, consumers enrolled in FSA and HRA programs no longer can use those tax-exempt dollars to pay for OTC purchases without a written prescription. While retailer POS systems still could physically accept the cards, there was no way for those systems to identify an actual prescription drug purchase from a prescribed OTC.

According to the new guidance, which becomes effective after Jan. 15, 2011, “this use of debit cards must comply with procedures reflecting those that pharmacies currently follow when selling prescribed medicines or drugs. The procedures include requirements that a prescription for the medication be presented to the pharmacy or the mail-order or Web-based vendor that dispenses the medication and that proper records be retained,” the IRS noted.

While the new guidance on debit card usage comes as some good news to pharmacy retailers and consumers enrolled in FSA and HRA programs, many continue to rail against the basic tax code changes for OTCs and FSA/HRA programs. Opponents believe the shift could have the opposite effect of lowering the cost of health care, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs for otherwise unnecessary primary care visits — to acquire prescriptions — and lost productivity due to rising presenteeism/absenteeism.

Still, the news that consumers will be able to continue to use their FSA/HRA debit cards to pay for prescribed OTCs comes at least as a partial victory for consumers and retailers who had been burned by the changes in the tax code.

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A&D Medical launches new corporate website

BY Michael Johnsen

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A&D Medical on Wednesday announced the launch of the company’s new corporate website. AnDonline.com reinforces the A&D vision of "… Clearly a Better Value" for customers, the company stated.

"We hope to make the new website a destination for our current customers, and look forward to expanding it with more information and products as we continue to grow," stated Frank Marrone, SVP, board member and corporate secretary. "Customer satisfaction is a key aspect of our business, and new communication tools like our in-depth product information and resource centers will enable us to further strengthen our customer communications and build stronger relationships."

The new website features an updated and cleaner look for A&D, with easier navigation, product information and specifications, as well as special resource centers for consumers, media, professionals and certified dealers. Concurrently, A&D Medical also is launching social media campaigns on such sites as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

"This website and social media campaign are just the beginning of new and exciting marketing campaigns designed to propel A&D Medical in the marketplace," noted Ed Siemens, director of marketing and sales for the medical division.

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Echinacea minimally reduces cold symptoms, study finds

BY Michael Johnsen

MADISON, Wis. — An over-the-counter herbal supplement believed to improve immunity function has minimal impact in relieving the common cold, according to research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health released Monday.

The study, published in this month’s Annals of Internal Medicine, found that echinacea reduced the duration of the cold by seven to 10 hours. Bruce Barrett, lead researcher and associated professor of family medicine suggested that was not considered a significant decrease.

"Trends were in the direction of benefit, amounting to an average half-day reduction in the duration of a week-long cold or an approximate 10% reduction in overall severity," Barrett stated. "However, this dose regimen did not make a large impact on the course of the common cold, compared either to blinded placebo or to no pills."

The randomized trial involved more than 700 people between 12 and 80 years old. The subjects, all of whom had very early symptoms of a cold, were divided into four groups. One group received no pills, a second group received what they knew was echinacea and a third group was given either echinacea or a placebo, but they did not know which. Participants recorded their symptoms twice a day for the duration of the cold, up to two weeks.

Barrett suggested a larger trial involving people who have found echinacea useful may help provide more answers. He added that there were no side effects seen, so there is no reason that cold sufferers should stop using echinacea if they think it helps them. "Adults who have found echinacea to be beneficial should not discontinue use based on the results of this trial, as there are no proven effective treatments and no side effects were seen," he said.

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