Coronavirus Legislation Allows For OTC Drugs : Coronavirus Live Updates Buried inside the $2.2 trillion CARES law passed by Congress last week is a provision for using pre-tax health accounts for things such as Band-Aids, over-the-counter drugs, and tampons.
NPR logo Save Those Pharmacy Receipts! New Payment Flexibility, Courtesy Of COVID Rescue Act

Save Those Pharmacy Receipts! New Payment Flexibility, Courtesy Of COVID Rescue Act

If you're stocking up on fever reducers and cough medicine as the coronavirus spreads around the country, you may want to hang on to those receipts.

Buried in the CARES Act — the enormous, $2.2 trillion coronavirus legislation passed last week — is a provision that allows people to use the money they put away in a tax-advantaged health savings accounts towards over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies, and menstrual products.

Part of this is reinstating rules in place before the Affordable Care Act, says Jennifer Berman, a lawyer and CEO of MZQ Consulting.

"At the end of the year, you'd go and stock up on Band-Aids and Tylenol — that ability got repealed by the [Affordable Care Act]," she says. "The CARES Act actually reinstates that provision." Now, people can once again use flexible spending account and health savings account dollars for those things.

The new rules are in Sec. 3702 of the CARES Act. That provision strikes a sentence that allowed for money in these accounts to be used "for medicine or a drug only if such medicine or drug is a prescribed drug." It then adds something new — allowing expenses for "menstrual care products" like tampons, pads, and menstrual cups.

Berman says women-rights advocates fought hard "for a lot of years to be able to add that to the list of reimbursable expenses — so now it officially has been added."

Scott Melville, CEO and president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the trade group that represents the makers of over-the-counter drugs, wrote to NPR in a statement that the provision "is welcome news to the nearly 60 million Americans who enroll in these accounts to responsibly manage their healthcare expenses."