Somewhere deep within the roughly 300-page Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act lies an important change to the way we purchase our over-the-counter products using health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible spending accounts (FSA).

This is something that pharmacists should be communicating to their patients – if you aren’t already.

It seems that this section of the CARES Act has not been heavily advertised in the pharmacy community, and it may just be due to the sheer volume of changes going on at the time.

“This is a big deal,” emphasizes Community Pharmacy Specialist Bruce Kneeland. “Everybody was trying to handle…workflow challenges and trying to figure out whether they can get that payroll protection money. I think this just got absolutely overlooked.”

In addition, nearly ¾ of Americans are still unaware of this change – giving their local pharmacy the chance to inform them to take advantage of new health care benefits.

So What Exactly Are The Changes?

Key Takeaways:

  1. OTCs can now be purchased without a prescription and still be reimbursed under HSA and FSA accounts
  2. For the first time ever, feminine care products are also eligible for HSA/FSA reimbursement
  3. The changes go into effect retroactively starting January 1, 2020

Since 2011, Americans have been restricted on their reimbursements when purchasing OTCs with their health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA).

A prescription from a doctor was necessary to qualify for reimbursement on items such as Tylenol, allergy medication, and cold medications.

The CARES Act, passed in March 2020, now allows Americans to purchase these products without a prescription and purchase feminine hygiene products using pre-tax dollars to save money on necessary health care products during a difficult time.

This goes into effect retroactively starting at the beginning of 2020, meaning that consumers can use any receipts for purchases dating back to January 1st and still be eligible for reimbursement. The change has no expiration date.

Visit Cigna’s website for an alphabetical list of HSA/FSA eligible items.

What Does This Mean For Your Pharmacy?

Front-end sales are an important part of revenue for independent pharmacies – especially during this time.

Take this opportunity to push OTC sales and prompt your patients to utilize their FSA and HSA cards before the end of the year to take advantage of their contributions.

“As a routine part of your pharmacy operations, starting in October, you ought to be mentioning that you accept [HSA/FSA] cards and listing items that you sell in the pharmacy that qualify,” urges Kneeland. “Put up signs on your OTC section…and build end caps to display eligible items.”

Make sure all of your customers are aware of the changes and make it easy for them to remember to stock up on all the items they need. Especially during cold and flu season, there will be plenty of opportunities to advertise your OTC offerings.

“Asking about HSA and FSA cards at the cash register at a pharmacy [should be] standard operating procedure,” says Kneeland. You’ll save your patients money, prepare them to stay healthy during the holiday season, and in turn, bump up your own pharmacy’s profits.

How To Boost OTC Sales

For more tips and advice on how to master your OTC marketing, PioneerRx users can log into Litmos and watch our webinar called "Practical, profitable, and cost-effective ways to boost front-end sales during the COVID pandemic" – featuring Bruce Kneeland and Nicolle McClure.

Each pharmacy will have its own unique strategy based on its store operations, but at the core of it all is paying attention to what your customers need.

During this time, it may be a good idea to focus on cold and flu products, vitamins and supplements, PPE, and seasonal holiday products.

Don’t assume that your customers know everything you offer at your store – always advertise your products and give friendly reminders at the point-of-sale. You can keep updated lists on your pharmacy’s website and social media that will show customers what you currently have in-stock at your store.

Tips For PioneerRx Users:

  • For patients enrolled in med sync, add any OTCs you discuss with them to their sync profile. This will prompt the clerk at the POS to ask the patient if they want to add these OTCs to their purchase.
  • Use your loyalty program to allow patients to gain points for their spending on OTC products and track their rewards in your pharmacy software. This will give them an incentive to purchase OTC products from your store.
“[Pharmacies] need to be educating and offering people the opportunities to buy things other than prescriptions right at [the point-of-sale] in drive-thru, curbside and delivery,” Kneeland says. “And that just has to be a standard operating modality for any pharmacy going forward. You’ve got to beef up those sales.”
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