Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Only Surprise Is the WSJ's Surprise

From the March 9th Wall Street Journal:
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.
Actually, this pernicious provision was well known for months. Complaints suddenly are common because this Obamacare provision just took effect on January 1st. As commenter jaed on Professor Bainbridge's blog says:
I'm not sure what they mean by "slipped past everyone's radar". This (as well as the other provisions aimed at ultimately killing FSAs, HSAs, and high-deductible plans) was widely discussed in the leadup to the vote. The overall policy of discouraging people from buying contingency insurance to cover large unexpected expenses, and paying the little stuff out of pocket (as opposed to the Obamacare approach of requiring prepaid health plans with first-dollar coverage for predictable expenses) was one of the main philosophical problems identified with Obamacare early on, and this was one of the examples that illustrated it.
Put differently, Obamacare Democrats consider this sort of stuff a feature, not a bug. Which in some ways is even worse than an "unintended consequence."

(via Instapundit)

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