HEALTH

IRS reclassifies breast-feeding as medical expenditure

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service on Thursday reversed itself in announcing that breast-feeding supplies qualify as a medical expense.

The ruling now allows moms who are breast-feeding to purchase all supplies using a flexible spending account. Those without FSAs can deduct the expenses as part of their itemized medical expenditures, including breast-feeding expenses incurred in 2010.

“Today’s IRS ruling providing favorable tax treatment for the purchase of breast pumps and breast-feeding equipment marks an important victory for the health of women and children across the country by making breast-feeding a more practical option for new and working mothers,” said Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The AAP recommends that mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months and continue breast-feeding for at least the first year of a child’s life. As many as 45% to 50% of mothers return to work full time within six months of their infant’s birth; breast pumps allow working mothers to continue breast-feeding. “Before today, steep cost burdens could prevent working mothers from purchasing breast pumps and related equipment,” Burton said.

“Now, more women will be able to pass on the health benefits of breast-feeding to their babies, which include protections against asthma and other respiratory illnesses, bacterial and viral infections and obesity, among other ailments," Burton added. "Pre-tax dollars already cover expenses like immunizations and bandages, and thanks to today’s ruling, women who wish to breast-feed will experience these same cost savings for breast-feeding supplies.”

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FSA restrictions first piece of ObamaCare to be challenged

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — Recent restrictions imposed on flexible spending accounts appear to be the first piece of ObamaCare to be challenged by the new Congress.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., on Thursday respectively introduced The Patients’ Freedom to Choose Act, a bill that would repeal two provisions in the Obama healthcare law that limit a patient’s choice in how to use consumer-directed health savings plans, to the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Under the health law, the federal government is stifling patients’ flexibility and freedom to use health benefit accounts that have helped make care more affordable for tens of millions Americans,” Hutchison stated. “Our bill strikes these arbitrary limitations and puts patients back in charge of how and when they’ll use [health savings account] and [flexible spending account] benefits.”

The move was met with wide support from retail pharmacy associations. “The legislation introduced by Sen. Hutchison and Rep. Paulsen is a critical step to ensure that the 19 million American households who have FSAs regain their ability to purchase [over-the-counter] medicines with pre-tax dollars,” stated Scott Melville, president and CEO of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. “With the country’s annual cough, cold and flu season upon us, now is the time for Congress to support this bill and reduce the cost of health care for millions of consumers.”

Retail associations, including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute, added their support of the legislation.

On Jan. 1, a provision in the new healthcare legislation took effect, prohibiting individuals from using funds from either HSAs or FSAs to purchase OTC medications without a prescription. In addition, starting in 2013, the Obama healthcare law will institute a $2,500 federal cap for all FSA contributions. More than 80% of all large employers that offer an FSA to their employees include a limit that is more than the $2,500 threshold, Hutchison noted.

A recent survey found that more than 90% of Americans preferred to seek treatment with OTCs before seeing a healthcare provider, the CHPA stated. In addition, nearly 90% of the physicians surveyed recommended that patients use OTC medicines before seeing their physicians. Under the new restriction, however, an overwhelming majority of physicians surveyed believed there will be an increased burden on medical professionals.

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Report: Teva seeks approval to market Plan B One-Step for females under 17 years

BY Michael Johnsen

NORTH WALES, Pa. — Teva earlier this week announced it had submitted a request to the Food and Drug Administration to allow for the sale of the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step to women under the age of 17 years without a prescription, according to published reports.

The switch of Plan B from prescription-only to a de facto behind-the-counter status marked a tumultuous debate for the FDA under the Bush administration. Consequently, many advocates are gearing for another political battle. Many women’s groups seek wider access, while conservative groups would like to greatly limit access altogether because they believe Plan B is an abortion alternative.

According to reports, Teva gave the FDA additional data based on a study of actual use of the contraceptive in girls between the ages of 11 years and 16 years. It expects the agency to rule within 10 months.

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