In Health Law, Rx for Trouble
By JANET ADAMY
Dr. Sandy Chung, a Virginia pediatrician, says she is inundated with requests to prescribe nonprescription drugs because of the new health law.
Patients are demanding doctors' orders for over-the-counter products because of a provision in the health-care overhaul that slipped past nearly everyone's radar. It says people who want a tax break to buy such items with what's known as flexible-spending accounts need to get a prescription first.
The result is that Americans are visiting their doctors before making a trip to the drugstore, hoping their physician will help them out by writing the prescription. The new requirements create not only an added burden for doctors, but also new complications for retailers and pharmacies.
"It drives up the cost of health care as opposed to reducing it," says Dr. Chung, who rejected much of a 10-item request from a mother of four that included pain relievers and children's cold medicine.
Though the new rules on over-the-counter drugs amount to a small part of the massive overhaul of the health-care system, the unintended side effects show how difficult it can be to predict how such game-changing legislation will play out in the real world.
Some doctors, irked by the paperwork and worried about lawsuits, are balking at writing the new prescriptions. Pharmacists and retailers say the changes mean they have to apply a personalized label on some 15,000 different everyday products for customers paying with certain debit cards.
The over-the-counter provision isn't the only part of the health-care law that has defied expectations.
Health-policy experts predicted that new insurance pools for high-risk patients would attract so many expensive enrollees that funding would be quickly exhausted. In fact, enrollment is running at just 6% of expectations, partly because of high premiums.
A provision preventing insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions prompted insurers in dozens of states to stop selling child-only policies altogether.
And a piece of the law designed to centralize patient care by encouraging health-care providers to collaborate is running into antitrust concerns from regulators.