PHARMACY

IRS gives mom-and-pop pharmacies more time to prepare for FSA cards

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The Internal Revenue Service is giving low-technology mom-and-pop drug stores another six months to either adopt expensive point-of-sale technology or prepare to do without a chunk of their pharmacy and health care business.

The IRS announced last week it had extended the deadline for the use of Flexible Spending Account and Health Reimbursement Arrangement debit cards in pharmacies that aren’t equipped with an Inventory Information Approval System.

The original deadline of Jan. 1, 2009 has been extended to July 1, 2009. Beginning next summer, the IRS has declared that FSA/HRA debit cards may not be used at drug stores and pharmacies unless the merchant has an Inventory Information Approval System [IIAS] at the point of sale to identify eligible purchases that qualify for use of the debit cards. The IRS exempted stores if 90 percent or more of their gross receipts during the prior taxable year “consisted of items which qualify as expenses for medical care under Section 213 d of the IRS Code,” including prescriptions and certain non-prescription drugs.

The IRS rules don’t require a pharmacy to adopt POS technology. But those that don’t stand to lose whatever business they derive from customers using FSA and HRA debit cards beginning in mid-2009.

In a memo sent Friday to independent pharmacy owners, the National Community Pharmacists Association hailed the deadline extension but cautioned the organization’s members. “We are gratified that the IRS pushed back the deadline, as we had requested in our letter to them Sept. 15,” NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts told the group’s members. “But despite this reprieve, employers, the credit card companies behind the debit cards, third party administrators, and others are continuing to steer/push beneficiaries to pharmacies that use IIAS point-of-sale technology to instantly identify prescription and non-prescription items that qualify as medical care expenses and give the customer a record of them.”

NCPA is urging independents to consider installing a POS system now, despite the costs. “I realize that for those of you without a POS, an $8,000 to $30,000 outlay is a daunting expense in these perilous economic times,” Roberts acknowledged in his memo. However, he told pharmacy owners, the tax benefits available this year to those who install the technology “may be enough to tip the balance to investing in a POS.”

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Healthcare affordability, availability are Americans’ top concerns

BY Jenna Duncan

WASHINGTON A Gallup Poll released Monday shows reported that more people are most concerned about the rising costs and possible limits to access of health care than they are worried about the effects of life-threatening conditions such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Of 1,000 people surveyed representing different sexes, ages and social groups, 55 percent said that availability and affordability of health care was the “the most urgent health problem” the nation has to deal with. Just 2 percent cited diabetes, AIDS and heart disease, while 11 percent cited cancer and 12 percent obesity. The Gallup Poll was taken between the dates of Nov. 11 and Nov. 13. A margin of error was reported at 3 percent.

Reports said that the nation’s total healthcare spending in 2007 was more than $2.3 trillion. That figure represents about 16 percent of the nation’s total domestic product and the National Coalition on Health Care has said that the total is expected to climb almost 7 percent by the end of the year.

The Census Bureau has reported that nearly 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance.

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CDC, Families Fighting Flu remind communities Tuesday is Children’s Influenza Vaccination Day

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Families Fighting Flu members and other public health organizations are partnering to commemorate Children’s Influenza Vaccination Day on Dec. 9, in an effort to remind parents to get children vaccinated.

The non-profit Families Fighting Flu organization was established for the children who die each year due to the influenza virus, and is made up of families and healthcare practitioners dedicated to educating people about the severity of influenza and the importance of vaccinating children against the flu every year.

“The willingness of the members of Families Fighting Flu to speak openly about their loss and the importance of vaccinating children is both courageous and selfless, and I thank them for helping to spread the word about this important issue,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC.

Yearly flu vaccination should begin as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the flu season. The CDC recommends that children aged 6 months up to 19 years of age get vaccinated against the flu. The CDC also recommends that those in close contact with children younger than 5 years of age, such as family members and caregivers, get a flu vaccine each year. In addition, people who live with or are in close contact with a child of any age with a chronic health problem, such as asthma, diabetes or other conditions, should get a flu vaccine.

Each year, an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized in the United States because of flu-related complications. As many as 1-in-5 children younger than 5 years old may have to see the doctor, visit the emergency room or other urgent care for treatment for flu. And about 100 children, on average, die from flu-related complications.

“Losing my infant son, Ian, to the flu has been an unbearable heartbreak, but he is the reason I want parents to know how important it is to protect their infants, especially those who are too young for vaccination, by getting themselves, their family members and every caregiver vaccinated against the flu,” said Julie Moise, a board member of Families Fighting Flu.

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