Statement: “Another example of unintended, and somewhat ridiculous, consequences in PPACA (the health care reform act) can be found in a provision that requires individuals to obtain a doctor’s prescription before using their own money to purchase over-the-counter medications like aspirin or NyQuil,” U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., wrote in an op-ed published by the Union-Tribune on Dec. 17.

Determination: False

Analysis: Part of the landmark health care legislation passed by Congress last year changed how millions of people can receive discounted medical supplies. In the editorial, Bilbray derided the change as another example of failed legislation and advocated for an overhaul.

But his example isn’t accurate.

Some employer-provided health care plans, such as flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts, provide a tax break and reimburse recipients for the cost of their medical supplies, which may include over-the-counter medication like aspirin or NyQuil. Under the new legislation, those people must first get a prescription for over-the-counter medication in order to get the tax break and reimbursement. Without a prescription, they can’t benefit from their health care plan’s discounted price.

However, contrary to Bilbray’s statement, the legislation doesn’t stop people from buying over-the-counter medication without a prescription. They’ll just have to pay the full retail price and any accompanying taxes.

Bilbray also didn’t clarify in the column to whom the new rules actually apply. On its face, his column implied that any consumer would need a prescription to buy over-the-counter drugs.

When we called Bilbray’s office about the column in December, it acknowledged the error and emailed the following statement:

According to page 736 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Americans who participate in Flexible Savings Accounts and Health Savings Accounts will be forced to obtain prescriptions for over the counter drugs, such as NyQuil, in order to be reimbursed with their own money. In Friday’s op-ed in the Union-Tribune, we should have distinguished more clearly between Americans participating in FSA/HSA programs and those without them.

A hat tip on this Fact Check goes to the anonymous caller who pointed out this error. Thanks for holding government officials accountable.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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