Bill seeks to subsidize health claim-backed dietary supplements

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dietary supplements Nutrition United states congress Marc ullman

Two Congressmen from either side of the mainstream political spectrum have introduced a Bill into Congress calling for dietary supplements such as selenium and omega-3s that are backed by official health claims to receive tax breaks.

The ‘Tax Equity for Meal Replacements and Supplements Act of 2009’, introduced by House of Representatives members, Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, and Ginny Brown-Waite, a Republican out of Florida, seeks to exempt the purchase of certain supplements from gross personal incomes.

“Nutritional supplements can significantly improve health, and by making vitamins and supplements more affordable, we can help people stay healthy while reducing medical costs,”​ said Blumenauer.

Industry support

It is the third time the Bill (HR3406) has been introduced to Congress, after it was introduced to both the 109th and 110th Congresses – and while it is not expected to gain widespread support, the major trade associations are backing its preventative medicine thrust.

The Natural Products Association (NPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the United Natural Products Association (UNPA) all backed the Bill.

“CRN supports HR 3406 and believes strongly in tax incentives to allow consumers to purchase vitamins and minerals,”​ said Mike Greene, CRN’s senior director of government relations.

“The legislation would allow consumers to deduct dietary supplements with health claims (like Calcium and Vitamin D, folic acid, etc) from their Flexible Spending Accounts. CRN commends Rep. Blumenhauer and Rep. Brown-Waite for introducing the legislation, and is looking forward to working with them to ‘make vitamins, wellness care more affordable.’ “

New York-based food attorney, Marc Ullman, of Ullman, Shapiro and Ullman, said the Bill was widely supported but few resources had been thrown at it.

“There has been some support for this type of legislation, though I do not believe that there has been a serious, organized effort to push for passage,” ​he told

He said such Bills had to battle anti-Health Care reform proponents that spent upwards of $1m per day opposing such bills.

But Ullman said it was anachronistic for certain pharma products to receive tax breaks and not other types of products.

“It is important to keep this issue before the public. If I can get favorable tax treatment for my expenses on BONIVA (osteoporosis treatment) or LIPIOR (high cholesterol), how does it make sense that I can’t get the same treatment for calcium supplements (which reduce the risk of osteoporosis and potentially could save the health care system hundreds of millions of dollars) or plant sterols (which reduce the risk of heart disease and cholesterol levels) which can be purchased at a fraction of the cost or prescription drugs?”

Food Stamp Bill

A Food Stamp Bill that would see consumers able to purchase dietary supplements with food stamps, that has been introduced to at least four Congresses had gained more momentum over many years, Ullman said, and was closer to legislative approval.

That Bill made it to the Senate version of the Farm Bill, but did not survive the conference committee, Ullman said.

Of the Tax Equity Bill, Brown-Waite noted: “As we consider health care reform in Washington, we need to make sure that preventative care is also a part of the conversation.”

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