Senate bill would allow savings plans, federal benefits to be used to buy supplements

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Ihor Bulyhin
©Getty Images - Ihor Bulyhin

Related tags Dietary supplement caucus Dietary supplement industry HSA

A US Senate bill introduced this week would allow federal health benefits funds and tax advantaged savings plans to be used to pay for dietary supplements.

The bill, denoted at S. 1654 and introduced by Sen. Ken Cramer, R-ND, would expand the use of funds in health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible spending accounts (FSA) to cover dietary supplements.  It was also allow funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs to be used for this purpose as well.

Info from pandemic might improve bill’s chances

This is far from the first time​ such an idea has been proposed.  But Natural Products Association president and CEO Daniel Fabricant, PhD, said the chances for passage of such a bill this year may be better than they have been in the past.

“Remember that these benefits were extended to cover OTC and feminine hygiene only last year,”​ Fabricant told NutraIngredients-USA. “And this year the use of supplements has become part of the bigger health care debate.”

Fabricant noted that a lot of evidence has come out of the pandemic on the role of vitamin D in immune health.  Numerous studies have shown a link between better COVID-19 outcomes and higher vitamin D levels, including an influential recent one from the University of Chicago Medicine​.  Similar information supports zinc supplementation.

That kind of evidence has spurred thought leaders like former US Rep. Ed Towns, Jr. to advocate for the use of these kinds of benefits and savings plans to pay for supplements.

“As health care costs  continue to rise, many Americans are turning to these innovative alternatives to meet their health care needs with maximum flexibility,”​ Towns wrote in an editorial in the publicationMorning Consult​.

Also, earlier this year Rep. Glenn Grossman, R-WI, introduced a resolution to recognize the role vitamin D supplementation​ may play in helping consumers weather or avoid COVID-19 infections.

Issue complicated by general debate about HSAs and FSAs

While using these kinds of funds to pay for well manufactured and well researched dietary supplements would seem on its face not to be controversial, Fabricant said the issue has been complicated in the past about disagreements about whether HSAs and FSAs themselves are good ideas.

These savings plans, which allow consumers to set aside pretax funds to pay for health care expenses, arose as health insurance polices started to become more expensive and with higher deductibles.  Opponents of that process see HSAs and FSAs as small bones thrown to consumers to deflect public criticism of the spiraling costs of health care generally. Fabricant said it’s important to remember that Cramer’s bill is about extending what HSAs and FSAs can be used for, not an expansion of the programs themselves.

“There are 22 million households in the country that use HSAs so they’re not going away,”​ Fabricant said.

As far as the chance of this idea finally becoming law, Fabricant said this year is a crap shoot like any other.

“So much depends on the other heavy traffic in Congress like the debate about corporate tax changes,”​ Fabricant said.  “But for people in the industry who would to see this pass, I tell them every email is a vote.”

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