Bid to add supplements to HSA eligibility list fails in Senate

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Hulyi Lee
©Getty Images - Hulyi Lee

Related tags Dietary supplement caucus Dietary supplement industry Health Saving Accounts HSA

A move to allow Health Saving Accounts funds to be used to pay for dietary supplements failed along with hundreds of other riders attached to a US Senate budget resolution.

The amendment was added to the resolution which was passed at 5:30 AM Eastern time this morning after an all night debate.  The centerpiece of the resolution is Pres. Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.  Vice Pres. Kamala Harris cast what may be one of many tie breaking votes to break a 50-50 deadlock and move the legislation forward.  With the victories of Democratic candidates in the Georgia runoff elections, the Senate is now evenly split between the parties.

Effort fails during ‘vota-a-rama’

The vote came after an all night session described as a ‘vote-a-rama,’​ in which it appeared for a moment that the HSA measure had survived the cut, said National Products Association CEO and president Daniel Fabricant, PhD.  The issue was confused as hundreds of amendments were stripped out of the final wording of budget resolution.

 The HSA amendment was put forward by Senators Mike Lee, R-UT and Tim Scott, R-SC.  The amendment was similar to a standalone bill introduced in 2020​ by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND. 

In a speech yesterday on the Senate floor Lee seemed to be trying to put to rest suspicions that any health care measure put forward by a Republican legislator would amount to a stalking horse for the party’s attempts to undo reforms put in place by Democrats.

“HSAs, health saving accounts, do nothing to undermine the efficacy or prominence of government run health care systems. They do, however, do a lot of good for those who have them.  They simply add a private option for American families who would like to make some of their own decisions about how they would spend their health care dollars. If they would like to spend more on nutritional supplements, they should be able to do that.  If they would like to spend more on preventative care, they should be able to do that,”​ Lee said in a speech that was broadcast on C-SPAN.

Fabricant said attempts to make dietary supplements eligible for HSA account reimbursements extend back to at least 2008 via a bill sponsored Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT. He said this go-round advanced further than many such efforts have.

“We had a good run at it,”​ Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA.  He said future prospects for passage of such an amendment would depend on the full engagement of the entire supplement industry.

“We only really seem to get our voices together when there’s an existential threat, and there isn’t one now,”​ he said.

Part of ongoing education effort

Fabricant said emerging evidence about the importance of vitamin D and zinc during the pandemic ought to raise the awareness of what supplements have to offer.  Now it’s just a matter of continuing the eduction mission with lawmakers, which includes continuing to try to make it possible to pay for supplements with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) funds as well.

“We want to get to the place of being the part of the health care discussion,”​ he said.

Crude instrument

Fabricant said it’s clear that attaching an amendment such as the HSA supplements expansion onto a budget resolution is a crude instrument. But it’s the best available at the moment, which accounts for the popularity of the approach.

“This is among the policy issues that are not directly budget related but which have a budgetary component,”​ Fabricant said.

With the country’s politics as fractured as it is, Fabricant said most standalone bills introduced in the Senate or the House have only a slim chance of advancing.  But the budget has to go through, one way or another, which is why so many lawmakers try to get a seat on that train for their priorities.

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