FSAs may become latest healthcare-reform casualty

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — There’s been quite an uproar following healthcare reform’s flexible spending account proposal that in January will force consumers to spend upward of $40 on doctor visit co-pays in order to save some $2.50 for every $10 spent on nonprescription items.

(THE NEWS: FSA lobbying group calls on Congress: Make saving healthcare dollars for working Americans attractive again. For the full story, click here)

And with the number of congressional seats that turned from blue to red, this year’s election is a harbinger that a lot of things are going to change.

If that change actually comes in the form of eliminating that extra doctor-visit hurdle to save money on over-the-counter medicines, that makes it all the better for the business of pharmacy. Because healthcare models that incentivize self care not only help curb overall healthcare costs (fewer doctor visits, fewer prescriptions), those models help drive consumers toward that pair of retail healthcare professionals — the pharmacist and retail clinician — who can help further drive healthcare costs down the most.

The Asheville Project is but one example of how an involved pharmacist can help save healthcare dollars. Medication therapy management type of interactions with the patient help increase compliance and potentially help identify problems long before they become an acute need for care.

Retail clinicians, too, help save healthcare dollars by engaging patients who have an acute need for care — if not by treating those patients themselves, then by redirecting them toward appropriate care. According to a Convenient Care Association survey, as many as 40% of retail clinic patients would have sought treatment in an emergency room or urgent care center, or otherwise would have foregone treatment altogether, if the retail clinic option weren’t available.

Retail clinicians also help advocate the importance of a medical home for patients — again, a factor that helps identify potential problems before they become more serious, and more expensive, to treat.