WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is targeting a provision of the 2011 federal health-care law that he argues increases the cost of over-the-counter medications to millions of middle-class Americans.
Boustany led a hearing Wednesday of the U.S. House Ways and Means Oversight Committee that he chairs to address the purchasing limitations on over-the-counter medications.
The limitations are imposed on people who have tax-advantaged accounts like Flexible Spending Accounts, called FSAs, and Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs.
Such accounts offered through many employers allow people to set aside funds that are mostly not taxed and put the dollars toward many medications, first-aid items and more.
The change in the law now requires the funds to only go toward prescribed medications, meaning that those with the account must pay taxes on over-the-counter purchases.
“This provision alone is a $5 billion tax increase on the American people,” Boustany said.
Boustany, a heart surgeon by profession, argued that President Barack Obama is indirectly raising taxes on the middle class after pledging not to do so for families who make less than $250,000 a year.
Several pieces of federal legislation are pending that attempt to overturn the provision.
U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, R-Calif., said the issue only applies to a select group of Americans and that eliminating the provision would pass on the cost to everyone else.
Becerra said the $5 billion in savings, up to $7 billion in 10 years, goes toward Obama’s health-care law to expand health-care coverage.
He argued that no one was presenting any suggestions on how to make up those billions of dollars elsewhere.
An estimated 33 million Americans are in families with FSAs and more than 11 million are enrolled in HSAs, according to subcommittee figures.
Consumer Health Care Products Association CEO Scott Melville, who testified against the provision, said the law is hurting access to over-the-counter medicines — often the “first line of defense” in health care — and creating many more “unnecessary doctor visits.”
Many people who have chronic illnesses can spend thousands of dollars annually on over-the-counter treatments and rely on their FSAs or HSAs, Melville said.
Dr. Joel Feder, a Kansas-based family practice doctor with the American Osteopathic Association, said he backed the overall health-care law, but not this provision.
Feder said the change is increasing wait times for many doctors and restricting access to those most in need. Some patients are coming in seeking prescriptions for about 15 over-the-counter medications at a time, he said.