New Bill Includes Dietary Supplements in FSA/HSA

Numerous dietary supplements have grown in popularity for various health benefits in recent years. Now, a new legislation introduced July 20 in the United States House looks to help Americans maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A bipartisan bill will allow consumers to use Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to buy dietary supplements with pre-tax dollars. Currently, dietary supplements do not qualify as medical expenses.

Both FSAs are HSAs are financial accounts that provide tax advantages for spending and savings on medical expenses. An FSA allows employees to set aside a portion of their pre-tax salary to pay for out-of-pocket medical services. On the other hand, HSAs are for Americans with high-deductible insurance plans. Eligible individuals may use HSAs to save money for qualified healthcare costs, including medical, dental, and vision care, prescription drugs, and other health-related expenses.

Previously, a survey from the Council for Responsible Nutrition found 78% with an FSA or HSA account wanted access to dietary supplements. Council for Responsible Nutrition CEO and President, Steve Mister, says dietary supplements are having a positive impact on health in the U.S.

"We know, based on our Supplements to Savings report, that taking dietary supplements saves the nation billions in health care expenses," Mister tells Healthnews. "Specifically, the report provides evidence that the use of certain dietary supplement ingredients (Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, soluble fiber, vitamin K2, calcium & vitamin D, lutein & zeaxanthin, B vitamins, probiotics, and choline) are directly linked to health care costs associated with certain conditions."

The bill, dubbed the Dietary Supplements Access Act, was introduced by U.S. Representatives Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), John Curtis (R-Utah), and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). Mister understands in the current U.S. political landscape, it may take some time before H.R.4794 is passed.

"In its present form, H.R.4794 is unlikely to land on the President’s desk as introduced. Most bills don’t. You have to consider the larger political environment, which is incredibly partisan right now," Mister says. "It is only going to get worse as we get closer to the next election, and those sorts of things are known to play out in ways that prevent anything from moving. So, it’s not a slam dunk that language like what’s included in H.R. 4794 is going to move in this Congress. If it does, it's more likely that a variation of the original bill will be rolled into a bigger omnibus appropriations bill or something of that nature."

According to 2017 and 2020 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of Americans over the age of 20 use dietary supplements. For those over 60 years old, dietary supplements are increasingly popular. The CDC says more than 68% of men and 80% of women over 60 years old take at least one dietary supplement.

As Americans looked to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in dietary supplements increased. Six weeks leading up to April 5, 2020, just shortly after the pandemic’s onset, dietary supplement sales rose by $435 million. Some dietary supplements like zinc and vitamin D have been associated with alleviating symptoms of long COVID.

"We know that the COVID-19 pandemic fueled interest in supplements as families thought more about how to maintain and fortify their health," Mister says. "More than three-quarters of Americans (77% find the industry trustworthy). That number is even higher among supplement users, at 84%. And when we asked people what their top motivator for taking dietary supplements is, the top responses we got were: 'maintaining my health' and 'live healthier/adopt healthier habits.'"

The Council of Resonsoble of Nutrition represents over 200 dietary supplement and functional food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, and related companies. For a decade, the organization has been an advocate of including dietary supplements in FSAs and HSAs. Now, those hopes are on the cusp of becoming a reality.

"This kind of legislation, in whatever form it ultimately takes, will positively impact public health, as we detailed in our Supplements to Savings report," Mister says. "The inclusion of supplements in these programs acknowledges the health benefits these products provide and encourages consumers to practice proactive self-care."

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