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Pending 2011 Bill Would Cover Dietary Supplements

A new bill was proposed in May of 2011 that would allow consumers to purchase their vitamins and other supplements with health care dollars. Get the scoop here and see how you feel about it.
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Tired of paying out of your pocket for vitamins and other health supplements? You're not alone. With hopes, a new bill may allow consumers to purchase supplements with health care dollars.

If passed, the Family and Retirement Health Investment Act of 2011 would allow dietary supplements to be purchased with money from Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flex Spending Accounts (FSA).[1] Senator Orrin Hatch, a republican of Utah, and Representative Erik Paulsen, a republican of Minnesota, co-sponsored the bill that was introduced to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in May of 2011.[1] Hatch and Paulsen wish to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to improve access to health care through expanding health care savings accounts.[2]

What Are These Accounts?
They're like medical bank accounts that give you more control over your health benefit dollars. Once you've found the right doctor, hospital or prescription, you'll pay with your account or receive coverage through the medical plan that's connected to your funds. Presently, the money put into these accounts can be used for prescription drugs, doctor visits and eyeglasses.[3] The bill would broaden consumers spending options to vitamins and other dietary supplements.

  • Health Savings Accounts (HSA) -- HSA's work in two ways. The government can take money from your paychecks before taxes and put them into your HSA or you can open up an individual HSA and deposit money on your own.[3] Employers and family members can also deposit money into your HSA account. The money in your HSA does not expire, so it can be used into the future. Each insurance company offers their own savings opportunities and tax advantages with HSA's.[3]
  • Flex Spending Accounts (FSA) -- With an FSA, money (your chosen amount) is deducted from your paycheck before taxes and put into your account.[3] This type of account has a "use it or lose it" rule which means the money put into it must be spent each year or it will be lost at the start of the next year, and all expenses paid by this account must be approved by the IRS.

The Response
Those in support of the bill argue that it will save the government large amounts of health care money each year. Natural Products Association Executive Director and CEO John Gay said, "We're talking here about incorporating ways to keep people healthy, whereas too often the system is focused on treating people who are already sick.[4]"

According to the Natural Products Association Web site, vitamins and supplements should be covered under the new bill because studies have shown that an increase in omega 3 fatty acids can reduce coronary heart disease among people age 65 or older - which would would save an estimated $3.1 billion if it were implemented on a national scale.[4]"

One of the many organizations wanting to sponsor the Hatch-Paulsen proposal is the American Medical Association. Michael Maves, a representative of the AMA, highlighted the benefits of the new bill, saying he believes the act would make several important changes, simplify HSAs and FSAs and provide greater flexibility in using such accounts.[5] Other highlights include:

  • Allowing a husband and wife to make catch-up contributions to the same HSA
  • Allowing individuals to roll over up to $500 from their FSAs
  • Clarifying that the use of prescription drugs as preventive care will not be subject to an "HSA eligible" plan deductible
  • Reauthorizing the use of Medicaid health opportunity accounts
  • Allowing for the purchase of low-premium health insurance and long-term care insurance with HSA dollars
  • Promoting wellness by expanding the definition of qualified medical expenses to encourage more exercise and improved nutrition[5]

While the Family and Retirement Health Investment Act of 2011 is still in the works, sponsors are hoping to see it pass by December 2011. Twenty-four hours after the NPA issued a press release about the topic, it registered more than 1,135 emails to Capitol Hill urging co-sponsorship of the legislation.[2] In the long haul, this bill would save consumers money, bring business to retailers and create more jobs for our struggling economy.

This could be the big break that health retailers and consumers have been waiting for.

The actual bill can be found on opencongress.org and there are links to the right of the article to contact your state representative.

Sources

  1. [1] - Text of S. 1098: Family and Retirement Health Investment Act of 2011, Govtrack.us
  2. [2] - Family and Retirement Health Investment Act of 2011, Votetocracy
  3. [3] - Making Sense and Making the Most of These New Types of Health Plans, Plan for your Health
  4. [4] - NPA Responds to JAMA Article, “Dietary Supplements—Regulatory Issues and Implications for Public Health,” Natural Products Association
  5. [5] - AMA Letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, American Medical Association
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