Fox Invents Notion That Health Care Reform Will Require A “Prescription For ... Aspirin”

Fox News' Bill Hemmer and Dr. Manny Alvarez suggested that the health care reform law will lead to people “need[ing] a prescription for everyday items like aspirin.” They based this claim on a provision in the law that merely requires people who buy medications using money from tax-free medical spending accounts to have prescriptions for those purchases.

Fox's Hemmer: “Soon You Might Need A Prescription For Everyday Items Like Aspirin”

Hemmer: “Here's An Effect From The Health Care Law That Probably A Lot Of People Did Not Expect: Soon You Might Need A Prescription For Everyday Items Like Aspirin.” From the March 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

HEMMER: Here's an effect from the health care law that probably a lot of people did not expect: Soon you might need a prescription for everyday items like aspirin. In fact, people are getting them already by the millions. Doctors now seeing a startling new trend, prescription requests for over-the-counter items. Millions use these so-called flex spending accounts to get a tax break on their drugs and medication, but apparently a hidden clause in the overhaul of the health care law requires a prescription to get those tax breaks. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/9/11]

Alvarez: Provision Means Tylenol “Has To Go Behind The Counter” At Pharmacies. From America's Newsroom:

ALVAREZ [Fox News medical contributor]: Now, of course, as soon as -- now that the law is enacted, basically, you require a prescription. So that if you want to deduct a bottle of Tylenol, if you want to deduct a bottle -- diapers, if you want to deduct anything like that through your flexible account, you have to go to a physician, and of course, this is now madness.


ALVAREZ: Look, this is a mess. What it's making us doctors IRS agents, which is basically what this law is doing. It's not discouraging anything. And I'm going to tell you something: At the pharmacy level, if you label anything “prescription required,” now the whole pharmacy has to change the exposure of the drug. So you know, if --

HEMMER: Which means what? Labels, or --

ALVAREZ: Not only labels, it has to go behind the counter. So you have to go to the pharmacist and say, “Here's my prescription for Tylenol,” and he has to have it behind the counter and then he gives it to you. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/9/11]

Health Care Law Does Not Require Prescriptions For Over-The-Counter Drugs

FactCheck: Provision Eliminates Use Of Medical Spending Account Money For Non-Prescription Medication. From a article debunking claims in a chain email about the health care reform law:

What the e-mail describes as a “Medicine cabinet tax” simply aligns rules governing health savings accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) with the tax rules that apply to deducting medical expenses generally. Under current law, taxpayers in general are not allowed to deduct the cost of non-prescription drugs as a medical expense. The only exception is for insulin. But those with HSAs, FSAs and HRAs were allowed to use pre-tax dollars to buy aspirin, over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, and other drugs available without a doctor's prescription. The new “tax” simply says HSAs, FSAs and HRAs can't be used to buy these medications -- except for insulin -- after December 31. (See pages 69 and 70 of the Joint Committee on Taxation's “technical explanation” of the revenue measures in the new health care law, which can be downloaded from the committee's website. This will affect a small proportion of taxpayers. For example, the health insurance industry says 10 million persons were covered by HSAs as of January of this year, roughly 3.2 percent of the population. For that relatively small group, the change does amount to a tax increase. It will bring in a total of $5 billion over the next 10 years, the JCT estimated in its “Estimated Revenue Effects” of the new law. [, 9/28/10]

JCT: Health Care Reform Law Redefines Medical Expenses For Spending Accounts To Conform With Federal Tax Law. From the Joint Committee on Taxation's “technical explanation” of the law:

Under the provision, with respect to medicines, the definition of medical expense for purposes of employer-provided health coverage (including HRAs and Health FSAs), HSAs, and Archer MSAs, is conformed to the definition for purposes of the itemized deduction for medical expenses, except that prescribed drug is determined without regard to whither the drug is available without a prescription. Thus, under the provision, the cost of over-the-counter medicines may not be reimbursed with excludible income through a Health FSA, HRA, HSA, or Archer MSA, unless the medicine is prescribed by a physician. [Joint Committee on Taxation, Page 77, retrieved 3/10/11]